Font License Advice from a Design Agency

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Written by: Nice Branding Agency

Categories: Nice Work

If our font license library was a real library, it would look a lot like Belle’s in Beauty and the Beast. We got a lotta fonts, guys. And here’s the thing: we made sure to get them all the right way. Fonts, just like a lot of creative work, have licenses and copyrights on them. So, if you are using fonts, especially for commercial use, you have to be sure you are using them properly (read: legally).

But, how do you know what font licensing is and what a font license includes? As with most legal parameters for creative work, font licenses are difficult to understand with all the legal wording and extensive restrictions. The Nice girls are here to help. Read on.

Intellectual Property

First, we want to clarify that, yes, fonts are intellectual property, just like other forms of art. Therefore, they are protected with intellectual property rights. When you license a font, you don’t buy the font. You are paying for permission to use it, not to own it. Your terms of use are subject to the terms of the license agreement you “signed” when you downloaded it.

Each font has a unique license agreement. Check out your font’s license agreement if you ever are wondering about what are appropriate uses for the font you have.

If you use a font in a way that is out of line with the terms of the agreement, you are subject to legal action. Fonts are serious, people!

Different Uses for Your Font License

There are a few different categories of use that a font can fall in. For example, desktop licenses allow you to download and install the font onto your computer. Webfont licenses let you embed the font into a website or an email. With an embedded license, you can distribute the font, but only through a physical product like in a software program. The mobile app license is specifically for fonts that are allowed to be embedded into phones or mobile devices. ePub licenses cover uses in commercial publications, and server licenses enable the font to be used in cloud-based services. Did you make it through all that?

Desktop and Web Fonts

A desktop license allows you to download the font to your computer to be used in design tools. However, you will need a webfont license to use the font on a website or in an email. So, yes, this means that you would need both licenses if you were to design a website in InDesign and then put it on the internet. Your desktop license allows you to access the font in your InDesign, and your webfont license allows you to put the font online.

How Many People Can Use This Font?

Okay, agency people, this one is for you. Once you know where you can use your font, you need to know who can use your font. Most desktop licenses limit the number of users, described as “seats” or “workstations,” usually, that can use the font when you download it. Generally, to add “workstations,” you will need to purchase additional licenses for that font.

Licenses can also define how many people can view the font. This is especially important with webfont licenses. Almost always, webfont licenses limit the number of views (unique page views) that are allowed. Digital ad licenses can restrict the number of ad impressions that can be generated by an ad that includes your font. For these, you usually pay a flat rate for the use of the webfont and then pay additional fees if your website (or wherever you’re placing the webfont) gains more traffic than the license allows. Webfont licenses come with a webfont kit that you can host on your servers that controls and tracks the use of your font resources.

The Most Important Part

Okay, so this is, in our opinion, one of the most important parts of font licenses: fonts (almost always) can’t be shared. Sharing the font means adding a workstation and purchasing another license. This comes to play in our conversations with our clients often. They’ll ask us to send them their native files so they can make tweaks or create other collateral in their branding.

While we do applaud you for trying to keep your brand in tact, we just can’t send you those files. Well, unless you want to purchase licenses for all of your fonts. Then we can talk.

What Happens If I Break The Font License Rules?

Improper use of fonts in any way — through your usage, distribution, or modification, can subject you to legal action and infringement claims. Now, we’ve never had a claim against us for improper font use, but we’re not letting that happen anytime soon. The consequences will depend on the infringement, so we know things can get pretty serious. Legal things always can.

If you ever have a question about font licenses, be sure to seek legal advice or ask your branding agency. At Nice Branding Agency, we would love to help you out with appropriate uses for your brand fonts and future appropriate uses of your fonts.