Typekit And Copyright Fraud, Say It Ain’t So

Mar 24, 2010

It is in the nature of fences to enclose everything within. While writing a post about Fontshop’s Web FontFonts, I followed a link and in trying to find out what fonts were being used, I found this:

/*The fonts and font delivery service used on this website are
provided via Typekit, and are subject to the End User License
Agreement entered into by the website owner. All other parties
are explicitly restricted from using, in any manner, the Services,
Licensed Fonts, or Licensed Content. Details about using Typekit,
the EULA, and information about the fonts are listed below.

@allow getuproot.com
@allow www.getuproot.com
@allow uat.getuproot.com

@name FF DIN Web
@licenseurl http://typekit.com/fonts/cde51de568/eula

@name League Gothic
@vendorname The League of Moveable Type
@vendorurl http://www.theleagueofmoveabletype.com/
@licenseurl http://typekit.com/fonts/bf5a95cb8b/eula

(c) 2010 Small Batch Inc. */ 

Any ordinary reading of this notice would lead to the conclusion that “Licensed Fonts” or “Licensed Content” refers to the two fonts listed: FF DIN Web and League Gothic. And that Typekit is claiming rights over those fonts. (Go ahead, read it. Or read it again. Don’t take my word for it.) The message of the notice is clear: this stuff is ours, hands off. To leave no doubt as to its legal nature, there’s the (c) copyright symbol and company name at the bottom.

But League Gothic Is A Free, Open-Source Font

The only problem is that one of the fonts listed is League Gothic, a free font offered by the League Of Movable Type, an organization dedicated to producing free, open-source fonts!
How is it that Typekit is claiming rights to an open-source font? And one from an organization whose intention and purpose seems to be the philosophical antithesis of what Typekit is about?

Note: Hopefully, the folks at Typekit will respond with a reasonable, non-legalistic, and acceptable explanation. I have met and spoken at length with two of the co-founders of Typekit, Bryan Mason and Ryan Carver. I am making no assertions about motives or ill-intent. The facts are the facts, that’s all. I just don’t get it.

What’s The Harm?

The question is: are the rights of creators whose intention is to share freely as worthy of protection as the rights of creators who ask for compensation? It’s clear that the creators of League Gothic intend it to be a resource free and open to all. Therefore, I find Typekit’s legal notice – which defeats that intention – something worth questioning. Further, League Gothic is released under the SIL Open Source Font license. If the SIL license permits this kind of obfuscation, I’d say it’s time to amend the license. Even further, Typekit may be creating a liability for the owners of the site, which is surely something they might want to look into.

What’s ironic about this, is that when it was first launched, one of Typekit’s main selling points was that it offered an answer to the issue of font copyright on the web. A way for font designers to feel comfortable about offering their products and a way for web designers to make use of them without concern about legal hassle. Here, we see the flip side of the coin and I can’t say I was surprised to find it. Especially now, in the age of digital distribution, copyright has become about protecting the few at the expense of the public. Copyright is long on protecting those who demand restriction and very, very short on protecting the rights of those who wish to share. The free and open always tends to get sucked up into the vortex of restriction. It was this that made open-source EULAs a necessity.

One of the great things about the web is its technological transparency. If you see a technique you like, it’s easy to “View Source” or use a tool like Firebug to see what’s going on and then take it, build on it, and others are free to do the same.

About Copyright Fraud

Copyright protection for intellectual property is designed to insure that the rightful owner of an original work enjoys the benefits of that work. These benefits include the right to control the duplication of the work and the entitlement to collect any monetary gain from the work. Copyright fraud is an infringement of this right in that the profits from a piece of intellectual property are unfairly diverted to an individual or organization that is not entitled to the benefit.
In addition to civil remedies, intentional copyright fraud also carries criminal penalties. The intent to commercially distribute or reproduce the intellectual property to obtain financial gain must be established, and the intellectual property must be valued at more than $1000. Evidence of reproduction is not enough to establish a criminal charge of copyright fraud. Copyright fraud includes unlawfully placing a copyright claim over material that is often actually in the public domain. It also includes unlawfully removing a copyright symbol from intellectual property. In each instance, all unlawfully obtained profits must be forfeited. In addition, a fine of up to $2500 may be imposed for each offense.

So anyway, what’s going on here? Are the pirate-fighters, in a sense, pirates? At the least, it’s a mystery. And to the folks at the League Of Movable Type: how do you see this?

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