Font Software: Pirates & Innocent Victims

by Allan Haley

Most graphic designers don’t deliberately steal fonts. But there are a number of ways that a graphic designer can run afoul of ethics and the law when it comes to fonts – without even being aware of these pitfalls. One of the most prevalent is purchasing fonts from a site that sells them illegally.

Font Piracy

Unfortunately, there are probably more illegal or “pirate” font distribution Web sites than there are legitimate sites. These pirate sites often tout themselves as legitimate file-sharing sites and may even seem to shun the posting of copyright materials. But the truth is that they are run by people with no regard for the intellectual property rights of others. They get bundles of fonts – and sometimes even the complete offering – from a legitimate foundry and then sell illegal copies at a fraction of their true cost. Eradicating these pirate sites is like trying to control a virulent fungus: even when they are shut down, they crop up again elsewhere, often under a new name.

Although the fonts might seem fine, if you purchase them from a pirate, you are receiving stolen goods. Most of us wouldn’t consider buying a television off the back of a semi trailer. Buying from a font pirate would be doing essentially the same thing.

The trouble is, although it is easy to know if you’re being asked to purchase a stolen TV, the same does not hold true for pirated fonts. The Web site might look legitimate, and the fonts might seem to be the real thing. But ask yourself, does the price look too good to be true? If so, it probably is.

A Compromised Position

Consider the following scenario. It’s midnight and your deadline is looming. Suddenly you realize you don’t have the font you need to complete the job. Knowing the freelancer next to you does have it, you ask him to send it to you. You install the font, meet your deadline, and head for home. The next day your manager informs the team that the freelancer is no longer on the project. Turns out that it was unclear whether all the software—including the fonts—on his computer was acquired legally or not. Your “satisfied” client is about to receive 20,000 copies of a brochure you created using a bogus copy of their corporate font. Both your studio and the client are legally exposed.

Using fonts of dubious origin can compromise not only your reputation but also the integrity of your computer and the veracity of the documents you create. Pirated fonts can bring viruses onto your computer, can affect the performance of your other, legitimate, software, and can perform unpredictably in documents. You wouldn’t download a file from SPAM email; likewise, you should steer clear of fonts whose lineage you can’t vouch for.

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.


43 Responses to “Font Software: Pirates & Innocent Victims”

  1. Jean says:

    I am writing a children’s book. Kristen ITC is the font I am using.
    Do I need to purchase a font?

  2. Dana J. says:

    The biggest thing I am hearing is not to steal fonts, but through all this on graphics, not one of the classes was actually dedicated to learning how to recognize the difference between stolen and not stolen, how to actually go in and buy a legitimate font(step-by-step) for us “uneducated” graphic designers. Lastly if your going to put your fonts out there in a way that can be stolen then maybe protection is the best key. Your not like the record/movie industry where you actually have the resources to track your fonts and arrest the people that are perpetrating this horrendous crime and fine them hundred of thousands of dollars. So if you can’t protect them on the web maybe the web isn’t the answer. Look at how Microsoft protects their programs then maybe discing and selling packaged goods is the way of it.
    If you don’t tell people how to actually get a font legitimately then you’re the problem and the solution is teach this on the web also on step-by-step how to download all the way to printing it on a disk for the publisher. Everytime I’ve tried I can’t get it downloaded, I couldn’t recognize a stolen font from an unstolen one, I use Publisher for many of my creations (I can hear you now oohh, Publisher)when I go to print it will say that I haven’t gotten the permission so…since I never learned otherwise, I bypass and go on my merry way. If you want people not to do the stealing then you have to stop hording the info about this and get it out on every program and website and actually inform them that what they are doing is wrong and then EDUCATE them on how to do it right!!!!!

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