[OpenFontLibrary] Public Domain Fonts due to lack of copyright notice

Fontfreedom at aol.com Fontfreedom at aol.com
Thu Dec 25 21:43:24 PST 2008

>On Mon, 2008-11-10 at 21:13 -0500, Fontfreedom at aol.com  wrote:
>> It's my understanding that anything published in the U.S.  before March
>> 1, 1989 without a valid copyright notice is in the  public domain.
>> (unless the work was registered with the copyright  office, fees paid
>> within a short time period.)
>Your  understanding is incorrect.  Please try to find some more
>reliable  sources of information, and don't just paste random
>things vaguely  related to fonts here...
>In more detail... :-)
I stand by my understanding of US copyright law. Insofar that  (Generally) 
"anything published in the U.S. before March 1, 1989  without a valid copyright 
notice is in the public domain." Here is a  reference:

In the document titled "Copyright Office Basics", created by  the:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC  20559-6000 
You can find this document by going to _www.copyright.gov_ 
(http://www.copyright.gov) , and clicking on  "Copyright Basics".
(http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf)  (http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html) 

It states:
Notice of Copyright
The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although  
it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a requirement,  
however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older  
Notice was required under the 1976 Copyright Act. This requirement was  
eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention, effective  March 
1, 1989. 

>Registration affects the sorts of damages that can be claimed  in
>the case of wilful infringement, and that is still true in the  US
>First, fonts in the US are not considered copyrightable works, so  it
>cannot possibly make a difference whether or not they were  published
>with or without a copyright notice (and you can't register  them).

Fonts are copyrightable as software in the U.S. That is the primary  
intellectual property law protection given to most fonts.

>Second, what does it mean to publish a font?  I'd suggest  possibly
>a font sample with a full showing of characters might count,  but
>it's really not clear.  The copyright would apply in such a  case
>to the layout of the font sampler, and to any text used within  it,
>but not to the font itself.
To publish a font:
Make it avalible to the public for use in it's own documents. Offer it for  
download, wether or not a fee is involved. I don't really think some "sampler"  
would be enough to consider a font itself published.

>Now, I am not a lawyer, and in any case what matters is what  courts
>decide, so you'd have to look at case law... but the only cases  I
>know of were settled out of court.
>Note also that  hinting may be (and in some cases is) protected by
>patent, and font names  can be (and usually are) trademarked, and
>also that fonts designed wholly  in part outside the US by people
>who were not US citizens at the time are  likely to be copyrighted
>by the laws of other countries, and that even  for a book, where
>copyright law does apply, publication in the US is not  sufficient
>to demonstrate copyright or lack of copyright -- you also have  to
>show that the book was (or was not) authorized by the copyright  holder.

>Even if it were legally permissible in the US to distribute pre-1989  
>fonts  without a copyright notice or registered copyright - do you  
>believe it would be ethical do this without the designer / font creators  
>agreement? Because something may be allowed under the law of a  
>particular jurisdiction that does not make it morally and ethically  OK.

THAT is a separate question. Is it ethical or morally right to republish  
anything which is legally in the public domain, a 350 year old book might  still 
have heirs around somewhere wanting a royalty.
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