[Scribus] GPL and fonts -- separating FUD from facts
Mon Apr 18 15:43:55 CEST 2005
I'll try to summarize some facts about the GPL and how it might apply
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
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
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
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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