Free Font equivalents, or legal ways to use expensive fonts?
April 29, 2006 8:44 AM   Subscribe

FontFilter: Is it OK to distribute a "paid" font, in order for visitors to properly view a (small, personal) website?

So, I play this game called Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (aka Jyhad, one of the old-school CCGs).

I found out which font is used for card titles, and I acquired this font.

Of course, I'm working on a "Fan Site" of sorts, so I've been using this font it in my designs.

Is there any way, aside from turning all my words into images or some crazy Flash solution, for me to allow users to view my website with this font, without making them pay for it? Is it legal for me to allow viewers of this (low-traffic) site to download the font (doubtful, but worth asking)? Or, maybe, a site full of free equivalents to for-pay fonts?

Or do I just have to suck it up and use the generic "serif"?

(The font in question is Matrix Extra Bold)

side note: if you do happen to play VTES, contact me!
posted by jozxyqk to Technology (24 answers total)
If it's a paid font, I'm fairly certain you're specifically not allowed to pass it out.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:46 AM on April 29, 2006

Do you ever install fonts to view other people's sites? I don't think I've ever done that -- I'm not sure I ever would. Even if it was legal to do so, would it be useful?
posted by Hildago at 8:57 AM on April 29, 2006

No, you can't redistribute someone else's copyrighted work.

Yes, you have to suck it up and use the generic "serif."

No, nobody is going to download and install a font just to look at your (low-traffic) site.
posted by majick at 9:00 AM on April 29, 2006

Yeah, sounds like a bad idea to me. If I visited a site that wanted me to download a special font, I'd go somewhere else pronto.
posted by languagehat at 9:01 AM on April 29, 2006

Make images for section headings, and let people use their own narrow serif font (if available - you know, specify the range in the CSS on the page) for the text. Heck, use CSS right and I think you can squish a serif if you're going for aesthetics over readability.

Do not use Flash. No one needs a flash-based site. No one is going to install a relatively basic-looking serif for your admittedly small webpage. You could specify the font if, on the off-chance someone does have it, but otherwise let it go. Let the content rule.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:01 AM on April 29, 2006

sIFR is for headlines.
posted by unmake at 9:07 AM on April 29, 2006

Yes, unfortunately it is generally not legal for you to distribute the font. You've also got a usability problem; you're either asking folks to install a font (they won't), or else you're going to try to use the HTML embedded font stuff which in my experience never works.

An alternative is to use sIFR, a crazy Flash technique that degrades gracefully if someone doesn't have Flash. I normally hate this kind of stuff, but for a game site setting a mood it seems reasonable.
posted by Nelson at 9:08 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: Some more information:

I'm trying to teach myself everything I need to know about the newest HTML standards (up til now I've been stuck in 1995 HTML Land), along with CSS/JavaScript/DHTML.

I thought it would be a fun project to make a site that lets you dynamically create new cards for this game. (Lots of people, myself included, already make "fan cards" in Photoshop, using the proper fonts that they own). So it would be nice if the card text were in the same font used by the company who makes it.

So yes, in this particular case, aesthetics > content.

But I guess I'll just have to find another way to do it.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:12 AM on April 29, 2006

It actually, might be legal for you to distribute the font, if the license says so. I bought Adobe Caslon Pro from someplace, and I have a license to install it on up to five computers. So if the website is *very* private, you might be able to give copies to your *four* viewers. Otherwise, just suck it up and use a normal font (half of good web design is accessibility, anyway!)
posted by fvox13 at 9:14 AM on April 29, 2006

Generating cards, including graphics and such, with text in a specific font sounds like a perfect application for server side scripting, and a terrible application for client side scripting. Write a little CGI, PHP, or whatever script that generates the card as an image.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were already a script extant to do most of what you want, subject to a little customization.
posted by majick at 9:20 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: I think I've got a solution:

I assume it would be legal if I took some text submitted through a form, and had a server-side script turn the text into a graphic using that font, and spat that back out. You think that's OK?

On preview:

This whole thing would combine server-side with client-side stuff. The client-side part would just be for an "instant gratification" WYSIWIG-interface layout editor, while the server-side script would actually be reconstructing the whole thing from scratch anyway.

Like I said, I'm not necessarily looking for the most efficient solution to the particular problem; just a fun project to teach myself some aspects of the technology.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:24 AM on April 29, 2006

Well, it would certainly suck in many ways, but you could render each letter as a .gif, then add it as an image with the appropriate ALT text and then simply put in the images for each letter of the word you wish to make... It would be slow as hell to load the first time and would make the site slow as hell to render, but what the hell -- if you're already considering making people download a font, you're probably past the point of usability anywas. :-S
posted by shepd at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2006

sIFR is used on massive sites, simply look at the ones listed on their pages. Talking about a script to replace letters with gifs is funny, because that's what sIFR does but with Flash. Why rebuild the wheel? There is a flag you can toggle when you build the font (as recommended after you get through initial setup) from the ActionScript document that sets it to be something fairly useless if you were to download it by itself. As far as I know, and based on the high profile sites it's used on, setting this flag mitigates your liability in distributing the material. I'm sure there's more technical information on their page about that specific feature of the font/swf conversion.
posted by prostyle at 10:24 AM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: jozxyqk, that should be fine. By buying the font, you bought the ability to create documents using the font. By creating the card server-side, and letting people download the resulting image, you're doing exactly what the font was intended for.

The user can't steal the font from the image, because a modern font is a mathematical representation of a series of curves. A simple bitmap doesn't contain enough information to recreate the font in other resolutions.

Images created by using the font, in other words, are yours to do with as you will.
posted by Malor at 10:24 AM on April 29, 2006

Oh, you may want to render the image for end-users twice.... once at 'screen' resolution (generally 72 or 100dpi), and once at 'print' resolution. 300dpi should be a good compromise between quality and size.
posted by Malor at 10:26 AM on April 29, 2006

I thought it would be a fun project to make a site that lets you dynamically create new cards for this game.

Generating these server-side based on client requests is absolutely doable, and does not cause you any license troubles with your font.

Look into PerlMagick—I've used to for similar purposes to good effect.
posted by cortex at 10:30 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: cortex:
Yeah, I already know how to use ImageMagick pretty well.
The "meat" of the project will still be on the server side.

I just want it to look pretty while theyre in the creation process.

If/when I finish the project, I'll post a followup to MeTa or projects.mefi
posted by jozxyqk at 10:49 AM on April 29, 2006

I'd go with shepd's gif suggestion. sIFR (Flash) is really annoying, loading slowly and triggering Firefox's Adblock extension.
posted by reklaw at 12:36 PM on April 29, 2006

You can embed fonts on websites - my own website uses an embedded font of my own handwriting, using WEFT.

Three (at least) gotchas:
1. It only works with Microsoft Internet Explorer.
2. On the PC.
3. It only works with copyright-free fonts.

But, as you'd see, it's quite a nice effect: and you can't possibly download my font either, nor use the code on your own website (since the embedded font is hard-coded to only work on my own website anyway).
posted by jamescridland at 2:12 PM on April 29, 2006

No, you can't redistribute someone else's copyrighted work.

Fonts are not copyrightable in the US, although the actual font files are. If you remake the font as images, you would not be breaking any laws, and sticking with standards as well since the font-embedding stuff is not part of the standard.
posted by delmoi at 3:50 PM on April 29, 2006

sIFR is used on massive sites, simply look at the ones listed on their pages. Talking about a script to replace letters with gifs is funny, because that's what sIFR does but with Flash. Why rebuild the wheel?

Go read the Mefi thread about the Onion's redesign. The sIFR stuff drove people crazy, and the headlines were quickly replaced with gifs. Flash integration into web page isn't 'seamless' the way jpg and gif integration is.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 PM on April 29, 2006

the problem with sIFR isn't tecnically with sIFR, it's with adblock -- adblock assumes everything in flash is animated marketing and therefore worth blocking. obviously wrong.


the font you're working with, matrix, is from emigre. they've done a lot of work defending typographers' rights to claim their work as their own. they also get really festy (with extra bonus lawyer action) when people distribute their font files. fyi.
posted by patricking at 6:13 PM on April 29, 2006

Forgetting sIFR or whatever crazy hacks the web standards kids are into these days, this would be highly achievable using Flash.

In a Flash movie you could have the entire font face embedded to display any text you want without typeface copyright issues, as well as load in external JPGs. Printing to a high DPI output is also easy.
posted by bruceyeah at 8:48 PM on April 29, 2006

...also, notably, this is how typographers (safely) share their work back and forth for critique at the typophile forums.

it's no ore or less succeptible to flashblock or adblock than sIFR is, but it does allow you to compose your typography however you like for display.

sIFR, conversely, assumes that you're replacing a browser text with flash, so as a result -- since browsers suck at complex typography -- you'd be pretty much stuck with typography that's interchangeable between the two formats.
posted by patricking at 10:00 AM on April 30, 2006

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