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I want to make a typeface that I would also let others to download if they happen to like it.

But if I use it on the net, and if I also let other people using it, can I have copyright problems? It’s not like I will copy a font, but it’s also not impossible that it would resemble something. Since it would be a simple typeface with the goal of being easy to read.

I also don’t want to check all the fonts myself to make sure that they doesn’t resemble what I made. Is there a program that checks it for me, or should I even worry about this problem?

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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The answer to this may be different to what you expect since in many countries (including the US, but not all countries!) a font is protected like a piece of software, and the design of the letters in the font are not protected at all. A copy is therefore defined by taking all or part of the original font file and actually copying it, possibly translating it to a different format or modifying it. If you are not doing this, it isn't a copy. In fact, if you were reproducing the same exact design of a typeface without actually touching/reading the original font file (or any representation of it in digital format, such as the file being converted to a different format), this would be fine (in such a country).

This is essentially a legal question, so it has a few problems being asked here - firstly it's not a community of legal professionals, and also laws vary by country. Copyright, however, is largely equivalent in most countries (though not necessarily for typefaces/fonts). I am not a legal professional.

Now if you are in a country where the design of the typeface can be protected by copyright, then you're essentially asking whether a typeface is protected from other people creating similar designs, even by chance.

While patents are like this, copyright is not. If you are not materially, mechanically or systematically (systematically might include techniques such as the grid method, or memorising and copying exact details one by one) copying someone else's work and any resemblance is purely an accident, it's not copying as defined by copyright. Even if you are "inspired" by a work and you set out to create a work in the same style, that alone still would not make it a "copy" as defined by copyright unless there was some substantial similarity not only in the style but there was evidence the design/wording itself was systematically copied or translated.

Of course, all this said, as unlikely as this is, if you did happen to design pretty much the exact same thing as someone else purely by chance, it may be impossible for a judge to determine whether it was a very statistically unlikely chance event or if you actually copied. Thankfully, in something as varied as a font or most non-trivial artworks, this is astronomically unlikely to happen if you didn't actually copy anything.

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The legal requirement in the US is that there must be 3 pixels difference between the two fonts, at least. Not much, but that's it. That's what we were told at Bitstream. –  Stan Aug 28 '13 at 18:22
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I don't know where in the world you are located.

In general, if you are creating a typeface from scratch, odds that it would so closely resemble another face to the point where there is an issue is extremely remote.

Also note that in some jurisdictions, such as the US, you can't copyright a typeface. You can copyright a typeface name. And you can copyright the code that makes the font, but the actual letter shapes themselves are not copyrightable.

If you are still worried, as your designing the typeface, get peer reviews and/or upload samples to something like whatTheFont to see if you feel you are getting to close to prior work.

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