[OpenFontLibrary] Site terminology: Free/Open/Libre
nicolas_spalinger at sil.org
Fri May 15 20:38:11 PDT 2009
> One of the terms was the Free/Open/Libre distinction. I have been
> using the term "free fonts" or "free software fonts" in all my work,
> including work on the OFLB, and likewise Nicolas has been doing the
> same with the term "open fonts."
I've also been using "libre fonts" and "free software fonts" depending
on the audience. (and probably for a good while longer: SIL's research
and work on collaborative font design and related licensing issues
starts around 2001).
"free fonts" and "free software fonts" aren't really interchangeable
I agree that it's not all that confusing to use "free software fonts"
it's just rather impractical as we first have to explain what "free
software" itself means to designers, not exactly an easy task as you know.
The "free fonts" expression is already widely used (has been for a long
time) to describe fonts which are freeware-distribute-but-don't-modify.
Using that name to signify something else entirely is very unproductive.
Seriously, we are shooting ourselves in the foot (our collective feet!
ouch!) if we continue using and promoting this ambiguous term. Try your
preferred search engine for a demonstration of what it refers to the
vast majority of the time.
> Nicolas feels strongly that the term "free" should not be used, as it
> is too highly associated with freeware fonts, and ambiguity with the
> "gratis" meaning causes too much confusion, so it should not be used
> on the site.
Seems only logical to me not reuse an existing term to make it mean the
opposite, doesn't it? I would think I'm not the only one. Or do you
really want to spend your life re-explaining an existing expression and
how it really means the opposite? I don't.
A case I made in an earlier mail to this list is that when a big serious
well-known foundry like Ascender distributes "free fonts" they don't
mean what you mean at all:
And another example from Letterror:
Using a different term helps us reduce the perception that proprietary
foundries like to spread that there are professional fonts on one side
and all the other amateur "free fonts" on the other side are useless or
a very reduced offering in terms of quality/seriousness.
Again, we are NOT yet another "free font site".
IMHO if we persist in labelling ourselves like that then we loose.
I do feel getting the semantics right at this stage helps us build the
right level of trust by distinguishing ourselves from the others
freeware font sites.
Also the open font community is larger than the OFLB: not all upstreams
care about the library, the webfonts are coming strong but there will
still be a lot of focus on open fonts on the desktop.
> I feel strongly that "open" is also confusing because it doesn't bring
> to mind the primary goal, freedom, and this has concrete disadvantages
> like not publishing source files.
So, are you against "open standards" "open content" "open knowledge" too
Again, I need to point out that freedom, as in the 4 core freedoms
defined by the FSF, can happen with a weak copyleft which encourages as
much source release as possible without making it mandatory. Font
binaries are editable sources: it is untrue that no source is published.
I think your rhetoric here is rather misguided!
Especially with the work going on improving the build path, especially
for fonts implementing complex scripts behaviours and on best practises
for releasing extended font sources...
IMHO you should really focus on fixing the various existing issues with
strong copyleft licensing in the context of fonts instead of criticizing
the other models :-)
Ultimately we let the designers choose where on the spectrum of licenses
they prefer to live.
> He and I have been discussing this for at least 2 years, and it seems
> we are unlikely to resolve this difference. We both agree that "libre"
> solves both our problems, and although it introduces problems of its
> own - it is not a native English word, and so the meaning must be
> explained to most people - we are happy to focus on that term as a
My suggestion is consciously dropping "free fonts" because of dangerous
ambiguity and using libre/open fonts because of existing adoption.
The name of our common community-supported license and the name of
library aren't going to change.
English doesn't belong to the English anymore :-)
Seriously the libre term is increasingly used because it reduces
ambiguity and I think following that trend is very good for our community.
> Another alternative is to refer to our fonts as "FLOSS fonts" instead
> of "libre fonts."
Not a good idea, as FLOSS is an acronym. I don't think it's the same use
> What do you think?
I hope the discussion finally leads us somewhere useful for the
community at large :-)
Nicolas Spalinger, NRSI volunteer
Debian/Ubuntu font teams / OpenFontLibrary
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