Dodgy types

Posted on 13/05/04 | in ideas, society, work

OK, here’s something for *you*, typography and copyright fans (though obviously it applies analogously to things like music downloads)…

I bought a font today for $40 which I needed for work – in this instance I can invoice my client for it, but in other instances in the past I have just coughed up myself. Not often at this price, but occasionally. And perhaps only when, let’s say ‘other channels’, have failed to provide the font I need.

Now, technically the law of course protects the copyright of fonts and, unless you are licensed for more than one computer, you’re not supposed to share them across an office network even, let alone send them to pre-press bureau, clients, printers or whoever. But, of course, every damn advertising, design or publishing firm in the country sends them glibly around anyway: expediency demands it. (Though PDFs have rather reduced the need for this, it’s true.)

In all honesty I resent the charge of $40 just for one individual weight of a typeface (to have the whole family in this case was nearly $500, supposedly a generous discount from $720…). I’m not a big firm with big budgets. I’m just a Me.

The font foundries no doubt justify this – as software firms do (we’re thinking Quark here as the ultimate corporate bastard) – by saying that so many people nick their products that they *have* to charge this much. (There’s also the entirely valid point that the actual designers of these typefaces, like us designers pissing around with them to produce other things, deserve to be paid for their work.)

I admit that if people can get away with copying fonts or software or music, however cheap they are, they probably always will. But.

Surely if the foundries charged a subscription of, let’s stab at $100-$200 a year or something, for which one could have access for that year (and maybe the technology could permit the files to expire after that?) to *any* of their fonts, wouldn’t this be small enough a cost for most firms or freelancers to bear without much of a wince to the wallet, given the advantages it would offer?

And surely 100000 people paying $100 is as good as 10000 paying $1000 – not just in terms of revenue, but also because of the *good will* it would generate.

When I was younger, poorer and less mature, I gladly downloaded shareware all over the place and never even considered registering it. But now I find there are numerous really useful apps out there, often costing only about twenty quid, and I think it’s worth registering them – they’re helpful, and have shown ‘good will’ in producing something I want cheaply, so I’m willing to do the same by paying for them if I genuinely use them regularly.

I think I read recently that the type foundries have been getting together to consider what to do about all this, and in the meantime are cracking down more on the ‘thieves’ – but I earnestly hope they might have the vision to look at the situation from a different perspective.

What would your payment or subscription thresholds for things like fonts, software and music be? (Please don’t say ‘nothing’, because it really doesn’t address the economics of the issue…)

7 Comments on “Dodgy types”

  1. editor Says:

    I have to say, I’m inclined to take the view that if they want to charge stupid money for a typeface then fuck ’em, there are plenty of other fonts out there that contain the same letters.

    Then again, I see that Adobe Font Folio is $4,999 for use on ten computers (or, if you’re British, £4,385 + VAT – nice conversion rate there, guys). If there were a two-computer license available I reckon somewhere like Hawker might find a one-off payment of $1,000 worth the increased versatility and productivity. They’ve already wasted at least £50 just paying me to grapple with crazy font nonsense.

    But speaking as an individual I doubt I’d consider it unless it were in the £300 sort of range; just because, frankly, though it does comprise a very large number of stunningly good fonts, having access to that doesn’t really bring in much extra money.

  2. rickbot Says:

    I agree – I came in here to note that it sounds like the font factories are geared up towards the large publishing houses, who have both the financial resources and the aversion to legal risk necessary to make the font factories’ plans work. A wee stripling like Hawker shouldn’t be playing that game when there are hundreds of thousands of decent free fonts floating around.

    I suppose, also, that if you want to look unique and don’t want others using your special font than the price has to be high to keep the use of it rare.

  3. editor Says:

    when there are hundreds of thousands of decent free fonts floating around.

    I share this intuition, but it would be interesting to know how many of these really are free and how many have just become universally pirated.

  4. rickbot Says:

    Let’s ask Olivia on Sunday whether she’s aware of any font infringement cases occuring.

  5. remotegoat Says:

    Blackheath v Collinwell 2003
    Judge found in favour of the plaintiff, agreeing that urinating into the holy water during a christening could be deemed font infringement unless the church had given prior consent.
    Isaiah 36:12 was not considered a worthy defense.

  6. hatmandu Says:

    Indeedy, and the truth is a lot of the genuinely free ones are a bit crap, and few people use them. You can get loads of free versions of popular fonts, but they’re rarely the ones other people in your workflow are using, so the infringement issue persists.

    [American accent]Wouldn’t the world just be a better place if we all used Comic Sans?[/Aa]

  7. drcosmos Says:

    When will people realise that only two fonts are necessary to accomplish any typographical task: Times New Roman and Fraktur. Anything else is just a waste of time.