[Scribus] GPL and fonts -- separating FUD from facts

Andreas Vox vox
Mon Apr 18 15:43:55 CEST 2005


I'll try to summarize some facts about the GPL and how it might apply 
to fonts.

Executive summary: As long as you don't embed fonts, you're safe. Even 
if you  embed GPL'd fonts, legal trouble is very unlikely in practice.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer.

A) The GPL

1. The GPL is a *copyright* licence and therefore governs only copying 
and distribution of works. Apart from copyright there is also trademark 
protection which could  apply to fontnames or logos in the font (no 
issue here) and design protection, which governs the visual appearance 
of  font.
Since design protection is n ot governed by the GPL, one could say that 
font authors forfeit this as sonn as they publish their fonts under the 

2. It is common view that the GPL does *not hinder internal use* of 
derivative works.

3. The GPL does not (and can not) apply automatically to your own 
contributions in a derivative work. While this might be debatable with 
programs, it's completeley clear with documents using GPL'd fonts, 
where the document content has own copyright.
To make it clear: it might be that you violate the font's GPL, but that 
does *not* automatically take away your copyright to your texts. All a 
court could do is to order you to stop distributing the GPL'd fonts or 
to pay compensation.

4. Any violations of the GPL could only be taken into court by the 
copyright holder, ie. the font author, or other persons he/she mandates 
to do so.

B) Usage of fonts in documents

5. One has to distinguish:
   a) referencing a font name in a document;
   b) embedding a font in a document;
   c)  embedding a subset of a font in a document;  and
   d) using a font's outlines in a document.

Of these cases only b) and c) constitute copying. Case d) *could* be 
considered creating a derivative work, see 6.below. If in case a) you 
distribute the GPL'd font in a separate file with your document, those 
font files would be governed by the GPL, but your document would *not* 
be a derivative work and can have an independent copyright (that's the 
safe use).

6. Fonts are also called "font programs" by Apple and Adobe. They 
contain instructions how to create glyph outlines, ie. produce 
coordinates and apply hinting. That means one could  interpret the 
following passage of the GPLin two ways when embedding font outlines in 
*The act of running the Program is not restricted, and the output from 
the Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on 
the Program (independent of having been made by running the Program). 
Whether that is true depends on what the Program does."

a) font programs produce output which is not governed by the GPL and 
may be embedded.

b) the font programs reproduces modified parts of itself in the 
document and this parts is a derivative work based on the original 

My advice: don't enter that discussion, assume the worst.

C) Practical considerations

7. Distributing documents with embedded GPL'd fonts should be seen as  
distributing a derivative work. in this case the GPL says you:
* must put your document under the GPL. Maybe it's possible for you to 
add a clause which prohibits changes to the you document content.
* must distribute the original fonts also.

For PDF documents on the web that's clearly feasable. In practice it 
seems unlikely that a font author would sue you if you used his/her 
fonts in a public web document but failed at some parts of the GPL. My 
advice: play safe, don't embed.

8. Taking GPL'd fonts to printer. The question is if this is internal 
use or distribution. If the printer accepts it, I'd advice to give  
them the fonts in separate files.
Once the document is printed, it's *not affected by the GPL*, since 
this  only applies to software (well, unless you printed the fonts 
source code ;-)) So your printed documents are safe.

Of course one could say that the printed documents is  proof of you 
"distributing GPL'd fonts to the printer". But in court it would be 
necessary to proove also that you vialoted the GPL, ie. proove you 
really embedded the fonts, proove you denied the printer the GPL'd 
copyright to your own document, etc. -- I'm pretty sure that will not 
happen. You're safe there.

9. The majority of fonts is not GPL'd.

After some discussion and improving we might put this info on the Wiki, 
so we have a "RTFD" if this question comes up again :-)


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