Where Can I Legally Use My Fonts?

by | Oct 18, 2013

By David Bergsland

Quite a number of authors have written recently to get some clarity on font usage. Can they use the fonts that came with a software package in their book? On the cover? What about free font downloads, are those okay? I turned to type designer and author David Bergsland (whose last article here was Typography in Kindle? Yes We Can.) to straighten us out. Here’s his report, and I suggest you bookmark this page, you’ll want to come back.


In this digital age, the question of font usage comes up much more than it used to. Now that authors are producing their own books, another wrinkle has been added. But it all revolves around copyrights.

How do font designers make a living?

The same way authors do—by royalties. But, the situation is more critical for font designers. First of all, the time and effort required can be compared to writing a book. But the market for font sales is much smaller. It takes hundreds of hours and commonly a year or more to design a font. This is especially true now that fonts have hundreds of characters.

Plus, like a trilogy or multi-part series, a font design commonly comes is a set of fonts. The minimum is usually four versions: Regular, Italic, Bold, and Bold Italic, but that is just the beginning for fonts used for book design. Here the norm is six to eight fonts per family or more.

A font designer can easily invest large portions of his or her life designing a font. Like authors, some are skilled and some are hacks. The font market is flooded with bad designers and automated thieves. All of this is complicated by copyright laws.

Fonts designs cannot be copyrighted in the United States

This is not true overseas. Many countries allow you to copyright your font designs. In the United States it is grossly unethical to steal font designs. That did not matter as much in the 19th century and earlier because all font designs were made from hand-cut metal masters.

Metal is difficult to carve so all you could really do was the best you were capable of carving. Font designs were a huge investment of time and effort. Font designers might do a couple of designs in their entire life.

Digital fonts are software and the writing can be copyrighted

So, even in the United States, all fonts presently produced are copyrighted. If you use a font without paying for it, you are a thief. But, scanning and tracing fonts is very easy and can be easily automated to try and slide around the copyright issues. Especially in the PC world, this problem is epidemic. Any time you see a CD with a thousand fonts or more for ten bucks, it is almost certain they are all stolen.

This is a new problem, beginning with phototype

Prior to World War II, stealing a font design was so difficult that it was very rare. Plus, font design is so restricted by its content that many fonts are derivative to start with. Up until the 1950s, there were only a few hundred font designs available.

But that all changed with the development of phototype. Now the characters could be reproduced photographically. With the explosion of presstype in the 1960s and 70s, graphic designers suddenly had a few thousand fonts to use. But that radically changed in the 1980s.

Most people do not know it, but serious digital illustration for desktop publishing started with font design software. The first was Fontographer. It was the first PostScript illustration program with its release in January 1986 by Altsys, with version 2.0 coming out in the fall of 1986.

Illustrator was not released until January 1987. FreeHand came out in 1988 as a further development of Fontographer into a complete drawing program. The first public demo of Photoshop happened about the same time, though version 1 was not released until 1990.

Digital font design software transformed the industry

By the mid-1990s, almost every professional graphic designer had a copy of Fontographer which came bundled with FreeHand 4 and 5, before Adobe gobbled up both of them and put them out to pasture.

I got my first copy in 1993-94, about the time I signed my first book contract to write Printing in a Digital World, the first textbook on the new all-digital workflow in printing. I designed all the fonts used in that book because I was so frustrated by the limitations of early PostScript fonts.

But I was one of many graphic designers playing with the new possibilities. The result was much like the current on-demand self-publishing paradigm—suddenly there were hundreds, then thousands of amateurs or even just hobbyists producing fonts. Most of them had little training except for their skill in typography.

Soon, companies were created to serve this new glut of font designers. I started selling my fonts with Makambo in the late 1990s. It went mainline with MyFonts around the turn of the century. But online font retailers were springing up all over.

The result was much like we saw with Lulu in 2002 followed by CreateSpace, Scribd and many more selling on-demand print books or printable quality PDFs for download. Then everything exploded with Kindle, then iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and the mess we have today.

How many fonts are there? No one knows for sure

Basically people gave up trying to figure it out in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium. By then it was assumed there were a couple hundred thousand fonts.

But purists didn’t count most of the free fonts available—much like the traditional publishers have had a real difficult time counting the huge number of books published by companies like Smashwords and Scribd—among may others. Smashwords alone adds 100,000 books a year.

Fonts in ebooks are easy to steal

There was always a small problem with fonts from PDFs. A decent hacker could pull out a font relatively easily to pirate a font. EPUBs greatly added to this problem. An ePUB is simply a zipped archive with the extension changed. When you un-zip an ePUB, the fonts embedded are simply laying there in a folder called Fonts. Anyone can just take these fonts and install them on their computer.

Worse, as the spirit of lawlessness increases, the more larcenous among us can take these “free” fonts and sell them anywhere they like—or simply give them away. This piracy of fonts is a huge problem. It attacks the basic needs of the font designers—getting food on the table and paying rent. So, like idiots everywhere, the assumption was “we’ll make it illegal” to keep our intellectual property rights safe. But we all know you cannot legislate morality.

Font sellers considered ebooks like software and sold ebook licensing with OEM pricing

OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturer] pricing is for fonts which are included with software like the fonts included with your operating system, games, or the fonts that come with your copy of Microsoft Office or the Adobe Creative Suite.

These fonts are sold for a few cents up to a couple dollars per font per number of copies. In other words, even at a penny per copy, Office might sell a million copies or more. A million pennies is $10,000 per font. That would be $10,000 for the regular, $10,000 for the italic, and so on.

Recently, fonts included in games and ePUBs were sold with a yearly subscription of $250 or so, per font—minimum. As a result, most fonts available do not have a license to be used in ePUBs or Kindle books. No author would pay that.

Fonts in operating systems and Word are not licensed for ePUBs or Kindle

A special license needs to be purchased to embed fonts in these ebooks. So, the result has been that fonts are not normally embedded in ebooks. This solves the problem for the font designers, but it certainly does not help you as the book designer. Plus, it greatly hurts readability and clear communication with your readers.

Ebooks require fonts designed for reading

These fonts are relatively rare and until very recently none of them had a license to enable their use in an ebook other than a PDF. These are fonts like Garamond, Jenson, Galliard, Bembo, Caslon, and the rest of the classic font families. Most of the thousands of new fonts are designed for what is called display use: ads, brochures, and the like.

Remember, the modern ebook (ePUB and Kindle) is a very recent phenomenon. The first Kindle books were available only in 2007 when the first Kindle was released. The existing pros considered it a joke, as they do all brand-new technology.

The Mac was released in 1984, but it didn’t become the industry standard until the early 1990s. Windows did not fully support PostScript desktop publishing until NT4 and Windows 98 in 1998 or so.

The same has been true with the modern ebook. No one took them seriously among professional designers until the release of the iPad and iBooks. Prior to that it was all geek stuff handcrafted in raw code using HTML and CSS. Embedding fonts in HTML did not become commonplace until near the end of the first decade of the new millennium. As a result, ebooks with embedded fonts were very rare.

The fonts you have are licensed for PDFs only

The fonts on your computer are usually licensed so that they can be embedded in a PDF. PDFs are used for print books, as you know. So, you can pick a font which reads really well and use it with no problem in the PDF you upload to CreateSpace, Lulu, Lightning Source, or any of the other print on demand vendors.

None of them can be legally embedded in an ePUB or its variant Kindle KF8. Even today, non-PDF ebooks with embedded fonts can only be read on Kindle Fires and iBooks with the exception of a few relatively rare ereader apps.

Poor font choice and bad typography are two of the reasons why ePUBs remain relatively difficult to read

Except for iBooks, your font choices are very limted and many fonts available on an ereader were simply not designed for readability. They work relatively well for novels, but their inadequacies rapidly become a real problem with complexly formatted non-fiction.

Free fonts!

There are tens of thousands of these available. The problem is that most of them are pure piracy or produced by designers with no font design and little typography training. Until the new millennium, all book designers were professional graphic designers. The primary foundational skill taught to graphic designers is typography. Free fonts are in another world of typographic horror.

I’m not saying that there are no good free fonts. I’m saying this is living on the wild frontier and many of these free fonts are simply dangerous. With Windows in the 20th century, a bad font could actually wipe out your hard drive. That may still be true. Most corrupted documents are produced by using a damaged or corrupted font. Many free fonts are corrupt or even carry a virus.

Free fonts can be used with care

Joel uses some carefully selected free fonts with his Word templates for producing books. But this is rare. Even free fonts often come with licensing restrictions which do not allow you to embed them in software to be sold—like in an ePUB.

In general (as usual), you get what you pay for. A decent, professional font will cost you from $10 to $40 or more—each. Virtually none of these include ePUB licensing. My fonts do, but only if you buy them directly from me at bergsland.org.

The Creative Cloud changes the game

First of all, InDesign can now simply export an ePUB with embedded fonts which validates and is accepted by both iBooks and Kindle KDP. This is huge! It means that professional designers can now craft beautiful ebooks of professional quality and directly export them from the normal professional formatting software—InDesign.

TypeKit fonts with ePUB licensing are included with your Creative Cloud subscription

Now, by simply subscribing to InDesign Creative Cloud or the entire Creative Cloud, you get several hundred excellent fonts with a license to use them in ePUBs. I should say, they’ve demoed this publicly and it is only awaiting reliable availability.

This will become the new standard for professional designers producing on-demand books, both in print and in e-readers. Fonts to use in their print books and online in websites and ebooks will become the norm for professional designers. Adobe says they already have a million subscribers to Creative Cloud worldwide.

The lack of professional WYSIWYG page layout software for the new ebooks has now disappeared. The major problem has always been Microsoft Word, which has very limited typographic capabilities. Joel’s Word templates are the only solution I am aware of to this design dilemma. But the fonts which come with Word are not licensed for ePUB and Kindle use.

Trust me when I say that you want to use embedded fonts in your ePUBs and Kindle KF8 files. Many new ereaders which support embedded fonts are in the works. Adobe just joined the Readium consortium, for example. My book design fonts sold directly from my Website [https://www.bergsland.org/fonts/] include ePUB licensing. I will be offering more packages soon.

If you have specific questions about font usage, please leave them in the comments.

David BergslandDavid Begsland has been an illustrator, graphic designer, typographer, and art director for over 40 years. He taught these materials in Community & Business Colleges for 20 years or so. He started designing fonts in 1994, and now has over a hundred fonts for sale at MyFonts.com and Monotype’s various sites. His personal best selling book is either “Practical font Design” or “Writing In InDesign”. He doesn’t keep track of stuff like that. The center of his online presence is his technical blog: The Skilled Workman at https://bergsland.org

 
David Bergsland is the designer of Contenu, available at Myfonts.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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165 Comments

  1. Gary Gauthier

    I am producing a 500 to 600-page user-printable PDF book containing a transcription of a 1919 WW1 Unit History typescript written by military personnel just after the war. The finished PDF will be donated to a museum as a companion to the typescript and may be printed out or sent to researchers for academic use.

    I need to decide on an appropriate font for the book that can be legally used for the noted purpose. As I have a Mac computer, I was wondering if the default installed fonts are legal to use and if there is one that you would consider to most appropriate to the tenor of the noted work?

    If there are other fonts that you would suggest, instead, please mention them.

    Reply
  2. Gene

    Hello! I am holding an exhibition and am using a font that I purchased the licensing for. It will be printed out and posted on a wall, do I need to credit the font?

    Reply
  3. Amanda

    Hi! I’m looking to get into dice-making. What license would I need to put a font on my dice?

    Reply
  4. matti

    What license do I need if I want to build a metal stamp with characters on it and sell it?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      matti, if the font will be a noticeable part of the stamp—and it sounds like it will be—I would suggest you use a font with a license that allows you to use it any way you like. The best source for these fonts, where you can see the license for each, is https://www.fontsquirrel.com/.

      Reply
  5. Jemma

    Hi there, I’d like to use Baskerville font for my self published book though KDP. The font came with my MacBook do i need to purchase a licence to use it commercially as i will be selling the books?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jemma, it’s fine to use those fonts in your book, no other license is necessary. And good luck with your book!

      Reply
  6. Matt

    Do you need to buy an extra license to embed a font in a PDF sold as an downloadable and print enabled PDF, if you already have the standard license to use font on your computer.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Matt,

      No, you don’t.

      Reply
      • Matt

        Thanks Joel, but I am getting rather confused by all of this.

        Doing some further research this morning.

        To use a Monotype font (from Myfonts) in an ebook (including PDF), you need to buy an EPUB licnese, according this information on their website:

        https://www.myfonts.com/licensing/ebook/

        “An ePub license is valid for file formats such as PDF, EPUB 2.01, EPUB 3, and KF8”

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Thanks for the citation, Matt, and I’m sorry this is so confusing.

          Reply
  7. Jonathan Jacobson

    I have a Mac and would like to use the Chalkboard SE font in an app that I’m developing for both iOS and Android. This requires the font to be embedded in the app.
    Does the licence that comes with the Mac allow me to do this for commercial purposes?

    Reply
    • Omar

      I do not have Mac, you should check carefully if you have the font EULA inside your system, usually they are inside the fonts folder, however Microsoft do not include fonts EULA so it makes it very difficult to understand your rights. I suppose you are NOT allowed because usually fonts licenses for app embedding are very strict and usually very expensive. If you get a free font to use make SURE the EULA say that you are allowed to distribute the font embedded in every format and even for commercial purpose. Joel suggested ones Gandhi serif or sans, I use it and it is totally free. Anyway always read the EULA that comes with if you download the Gandhi serif font from their official web, do not trust completly what people rekon online cause a font EULA could change at any time, by the way if you download it and the EULA is ok you won’t have problems. Always from Official font foundry web… good luck

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jonathan,

      You cannot embed the font in a commercial product. This font, like the others supplied with Macs is copyright by Apple Computer. Replying to a similar query, Apple stated:

      “The fonts made available in Font Book may be used to create, display and print content on OS X running on a Mac. Such content may be used for either personal or commercial purposes. Users are, however, prohibited from copying and distributing the electronic font files made available in Font Book for use on non-Apple hardware.”

      You can find more of this discussion here: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7493969

      I would suggest searching for a similar font on http://www.fontsquirrel.com where each font has a complete license you can examine, and many can be used for your project. This is exactly the same process we went through to identify the fonts used in our templates: http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com

      Reply
  8. David Sedgwick

    Hi – good article.

    I have a simple question:

    Can I use the fonts for my paperback KDP book that come installed with
    my version of Word? (i.e. cambria)

    Thanks

    David

    Reply
    • omar

      I just give you a suggestion, get in touch with Microsoft support and ask them to send you the EULA about the Cambria font attached in the email, read it and make sure it allows you. This is the only legal way you can be sure 99%…if you can do it PLEASE let us know! The rest without an EULA sent by Microsoft is just an opinion.

      Reply
  9. Addie Marie

    Apologies for the potentially newbie question, I’m struggling to understand this subject.

    I’m having someone on Fiverr design a book cover for me as a new author. I’ve provided a purchased stock photo for them, but I have concerns about their use of fonts on the cover itself. I’ve asked them if they are going to use fonts that they have the rights to and they’ve assured me they will, but I don’t this covers me legally.

    Once they are finished and I actually see what they have used, what’s the best way I can make sure my use is legal?

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
  10. Kira

    I’ve been scouring the internet for answers so I’m hoping you can clarify for me! I’m looking to manufacture and sell clear acrylic stamps for use in cardmaking and other paper crafts. The illustrated pictures will be drawn by me (so clearly no license needed) but if I wanted to use a font to type up a phrase (“happy birthday” for example), would a basic font license work for that? (My assumption is yes, seeing that most say for use on 500 sold items or less). My second question is, would I be able to take that same font and create a stamp with just the alphabet (one stamp for each letter, enlarged to about 2” high)? Or would that require a separate license? Or would I have to contact the creator to find out? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Kira, we faced the same question when developing our interior book templates and solved it by using fonts from fontsquirrel.com where you can examine the license for each font, and where you’ll find many lovely fonts with no restrictions on their use.

      Reply
  11. Peggy Diezi

    What license do I need? I am making pillows with text on them and selling the pillows. I see that. I bought a font bundle that says 1 Standard license and then just under that is says:
    Use This Font For:
    Commercial Use
    Unlimited Number of Projects
    Unlimited End Products For Sale

    Thanks for any clairifycation

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Peggy, as the license says, you are free to use the fonts for commercial products, so I think you are fine to proceed.

      Reply
  12. VG

    Hello, I’m a bit new to this. If I were to design a manual/book for an organization, just for use within that company/group, would it be considered for commercial use?

    Also, where would you typically attribute designers of say, fonts and clip art in a book (for elements that Are free for commercial use but require attribution)?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      VG, you don’t have to worry about using your fonts for an internal publication. If you want to credit designers, the usual place is on the copyright page.

      Reply
  13. John

    Hi, I’m looking to use one weight of Akzidenz Grotesk for an album cover (commercial use). What sort of license will I need and how can I purchase one?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      John, did you purchase the font yourself? If so, you acquired the license to use it in your purchase. If you didn’t purchase it, consider that option to “legalize” your fonts. I believe it’s only sold by Berthold (https://www.bertholdtypes.com/font/akzidenz-grotesk/standard/).

      Reply
  14. Ashley ann

    I am publishing a children’s picture book to createspace and downloaded free fonts from font squirrel. Do I need to include the license and copyright for the fonts on my copyright page?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Ashley, on Font Squirrel you’ll find that each font has specific licensing requirements, and you should check those for the fonts you’re using.

      Reply
  15. Manish Saini

    Hi,

    I am still not clear. I am writing a children’s picture book and picking between Futura Medium and Century Gothic. Both fonts are on my Mac, but my illustrator/designer doesn’t have on his PC. Ultimately we will create a PDF to send to printer which will print 1000s of books, that I plan to sell/ship all around the world (hopefully).
    – Do I need to pay for these fonts? I have on my Mac already.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Manish, either you or your designer needs to own a license for the fonts. You could get this either because you bought a program that came with the fonts or you purchased the fonts directly.

      Reply
  16. luisa

    the fonts used for nothing to be sold, need to be licensed? Exclusively for programs for Masses and other liturgical celebrations, simply to be given to the people indicating the songs to be used.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      luisa, I don’t think you need to worry about the fonts if it’s a book that will not be sold in retail.

      Reply
  17. Brandy

    Hi great article and thank you for all the clarification. I did have a few questions tho.
    Can I use any font for my blog logo or do I need a license for this?
    Also I was planning on making printable instant downloads to sell on Etsy. Would I need to check the fonts license in order to sell these?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Brandy,

      You can use any font for your logo, but if you plan to sell merchandise using the fonts, I would advise checking the license to see if that’s allowed.

      Reply
  18. Jennie

    Hello! Can I use Comic Sans Ms for publishing a children’s book? If I need to pay for a license how do I go about it?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jennie, fine to use Comic Sans (although there is probably a better font) and you don’t have to pay anyone to do so.

      Reply
  19. Cindy Anderson

    I don’t really understand what you were trying to say. If I bought a book writing software that came with aps- since I purchased them with the ap I can or cannot use them?

    If I find a font I like and purchase it- I can use it in or on my book because I have purchased it?

    Is it that simple? From your article it didn’t seem to be.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      It’s likely that you acquired whatever license you need when you purchased the software. To be honest, I’ve never heard of any “font police” or any author being asked to pay more to use a type font that came with software.

      Reply
  20. Lainey

    Hi! great article… i just wanted to ask because i am incredibly unclear on this, and maybe i am completely wrong… but I sell signs/furniture/etc on etsy… I use a cutting machine to make the “stencil” to write out what is going on my sign.. i purchase fonts on the app and all… can i sell those things? i know for a fact other companies use the same fonts on their signs all the time… so i guess my question is,
    If i am not selling the font electronically… or taking credit for font… can i sell it if its painted by my own hand on a wooden board?! sorry if this is so confusing!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      It’s likely that you acquired an license needed when you purchased the app and fonts, so I wouldn’t worry about it, to be honest.

      Reply
  21. Omar Cibrario

    Good morning and thanks for the article very useful!
    I have a bad headache with the font license and I do not understand few things.
    I am going to sell my book with amazon, so I will use create space.
    I would like to use georgia, garamond or palatino font from my libre office program and I casually read online that I would need to purchase a commercial license for my book.
    Is it true or I can use them? If yes, why for a commercial logo or commercial web people need to buy font license and for a print book we do not need it?
    Thanks a lot I really hope to have your answer! I need it!
    Thanks again

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      It’s likely that you acquired whatever license you need when you purchased the software. To be honest, I’ve never heard of any “font police” or any author being asked to pay more to use a type font that came with software.

      Reply
      • omar

        Thanks!

        Reply
  22. Samantha

    Hi. I want to use either Times New Roman or Arial for my short story and poetry entries for a school competition. Can I do this legally?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Samantha, yes, you can use either one with no problem.

      Reply
      • Samantha

        Thank you.

        Reply
  23. Jill Swanson

    David,

    Thank you for the informative articles. I’ve gone around the web and you have the most helpful and easy to understand information for writers!

    Can you clarify something for me?

    My first print book (publisher published) used Lassigue Dmato font,
    I’m self publishing my next book and want to use it (consistency). I bought the font for my computer 10 years ago.

    Can I use this font on a print cover book without buying a special license for it?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jill, just to jump in here, you already acquired the license when you “bought” the font, so feel free to go ahead and use it on your cover.

      Reply

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