Maybe you’re starting an exciting new business venture, a kickstarter project or it’s time to refresh your corporate branding. When designing a company logo and fleshing out your branding you will need to consider what typography best compliments your business. Luckily for you, there are so many fonts now available that the options seem endless. Selecting the right typeface is no doubt going to be a challenge, but more importantly what are legalities related to commercial usage?
The reality is that most people do not know a whole lot about fonts and license agreement that need to be respectfully adhered to. To put it simply, you don’t just buy a font or download a free font online and go to town slapping your new typography all over your stationary and website. Every font has a user agreement and the details of that agreement vary for every single typeface.
If you have no idea, and want to learn the basics that will keep you out of hot water then please do read on.
However if you’re intrigued to dive in deeper, then take a look at our blog ‘What the font?!’ The article covers everything we will discuss here but in much greater detail. We highly recommended it to all professionals who work in advertising and creative fields.
Who is responsible for proper font use?
If you employ a graphic designer or creative agency to design your brand then they should inform you about the licensing terms and conditions that relate to all of typefaces used in your artwork. That sounds too easy and to be honest, that’s really a perfect world scenario.
Chances are that your designer will create your branding and then supply you all of your collateral, brand assets (this may include the fonts used) and a style guide followed closely by an invoice – done and dusted!
On their end maybe, but this leaves you to present your branding and remain none the wiser to your legal obligations as far as font usage goes.
A designer should tell you what font(s) has/have been used and explain the license agreements tied to those typefaces. If they DO NOT, then make sure that YOU ask them to! At the end of the day whoever uses a font commercially is the one who is liable.
What do I ask my Designer?
Ask your designer or creative agency what fonts have been used and what usage agreement licenses are tethered to those fonts. If they are vague in details, request the licence agreement which is often a text file. The licence agreement will clearly identify all usage rules relating to that font for all private and commercial applications.
Next up, you will need to ask if they have purchased the font. If the font has been purchased then was the font licensed in their name (the design agencies details) or in your name (your business details).
If the font is licenced in the design agencies name then only THEY are cleared to use the font(s) applied to your branding. If this is the case, then you DO NOT have any rights to showcase your branding in any form of commercial application! In addition you are not allowed to generate documents using the brand font without holding the rights to the proper licence.
How do I cover myself?
In the early stages of brand development its best to get on top of font licensing as soon as you select the typefaces you wish to work with. You should prompt your designer to purchase all fonts and have them licensed in your business name. Establishing this in the beginning covers you throughout the design process and for the life of the brands usage.
A company with a large body of staff, is advised to check how many users can load the font(s) onto their machines. Fonts come with a variety of licences and will indicate how many users are covered under that licence. If a font licence allows up to 5 users, and you run a small business of 8 members, and the entire team is creating documents with the same font installed on all machines then you will need to buy a second instance of the font to cover all grounds.
This all seems a bit overkill, and you are no doubt thinking who even polices this stuff? Does anyone really care!? Next up I will explain the legal ramifications of improper usage. If you’re a stickler for playing by the rules then head on over to our ‘What the font?!’ blog to see how to best protect yourself from those pesky ‘font police’.
What’s the worst that can happen?
You could be sued for 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of dollars and have all of your branding merchandise destroyed! Although this sounds extremely harsh, it has worked out this way for some brands that have completely disregarded the rules. In most cases it’s far less of a penalty, and generally all that may come of it is that the font creator will request the company to purchase the full licence – end of story.
One way to look at font licensing is to think of it as if it was your taxes. In many cases you get away with fudging little bits here and there, but anything major could be picked up in an audit and if that’s the case then expect consequences.
My advice to all commercial brands is to buy the official font and adhere to the license agreement respectively and nothing negative will come your way in relation to usage of your brand.
Fonts cost money just like stock photos and music because they have been meticulously designed by a typographer. Purchasing a font or respectfully following the font licence agreement for a free font supports the creator and helps promotes their work.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Fonts and their font families can be expensive to purchase, but do not fret because there are other solutions available.
Often free fonts have licence agreement that state that the font can be used commercially if the user contacts the typographer and requests usage rights.
Web fonts and services such as Google fonts can provide professionally designed typefaces which are free for use in any online or print application. As always be sure to read the fine print tied to these fonts because at the end of the day you as the user are responsible for how and where you promote your brand.
That covers the basics of what you need to know and what to ask when consulting with your design agency on your brands development. If this hasn’t provided you with enough clarity on the subject then be sure to read our blog ‘What the font?!’
All the best with your creative endeavours!
Article by Paul Dubczuk