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.
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.