[OpenFontLibrary] Site terminology: Fonts/Typefaces

Nicolas Spalinger nicolas_spalinger at sil.org
Fri May 15 21:33:14 PDT 2009

Dave Crossland wrote:
> Hi,
> At the LGM2009 Nicolas and I had some discussions about the OFLB
> terminology, and I thought I'd raise these points on the list for
> wider discussion.
> One of the terms was the Fonts/Typefaces distinction.
> Nicolas felt that the current v2 site uses the term "typefaces" too
> much (I hope you can explain here why)

Alright, my main concern was that we somehow suddenly loose the explicit
recognition of the software nature of fonts:
- we may endanger the legal status of the fonts submitted to us by
designers wishing to reserve some right on their fonts: attribution and
- we loose an opportunity to explain to our users the difference between
typeface and font

If the typeface is the "design" or the set of characters forming a whole
family similar in style then the font is the software expression of that
design, right? The original piece of metal (from which the word font
comes from) is now a piece of software when the design is

If we only publish the "designs": a nice ethereal concept of beauty
thought up by a skilled designer, and we do not talk about fonts as the
digital representation and expression of that design as software, then
it seems to me that we open a dangerous possibility: what's preventing
people from using their peculiar local legal system to take the
"designs" and modify them against their authors' will embodied in their
chosen licensing? In effect abusing their creation via our hosting service?

IMHO we can't keep on saying that we don't really know if fonts are
software or not... We need to make a stand and explain that clearly for
both authors and users.

Through the Berne convention authors worldwide can assert their
copyright + licensing on their creation and not have others take their
creations and use it ways they don't intend. (the US is also a signatory
to the Berne convention).

With our free software license we use copyright to actually secure
continued access to our software and prevent lockup and exclusivity: we
grant and reserve rights. So we are interested in the global standing of
copyright law.

I think we need to the upload and the download page clearer on that aspect.

For example, the TypoFonderie EULAs talk about both typeface design and
fonts. I suspect to get around this potential problem. (The laws in
France (article L112-1) explicitly mention "oeuvres typographiques" as
being protected by droit d'auteur (copyright law) and there is
jurisprudence (judicial precedent)) but I suspect designers are worried
about other jurisdictions.

> and I feel that since people
> who make new fonts/typefaces talk about themselves as typeface
> designers and talk about typefaces, we should "speak their language"
> as much as possible; and that the distinction between the two is quite
> a fine detail and its okay to refer to each as the other when not
> talking precisely.

I fully agree with speaking the language of designers but AFAIK they
also speak about fonts and their software nature. We also need to be
clear for our users.

Users don't have typeface folders, typeface menus, typeface managers and
so on on their desktops do they? AFAICT they mostly talk about fonts.

> What do you think?
> Cheers,
> Dave


Nicolas Spalinger, NRSI volunteer
Debian/Ubuntu font teams / OpenFontLibrary

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