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I just want to use some specific fonts for a non-profit project.

I'll never sell or get any money (not myself or anyone related) with this. Not myself or anyone or the makers of those fonts will make any money, at all.

I just thought "these fonts looks great, I want to use them". Before doing anything though, I prefer asking about it.

Am I legally allowed to use copyrighted fonts for non-profit work?

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First of all, how will you squire them? And secondly, your project will have some purpose, like promoting something. That's worth something too, even if there is no direct cash flow. –  KMSTR Apr 19 '13 at 15:51

4 Answers 4

At least in the US, fonts can't be copyrighted.

Perhaps you mean 'licensed fonts'?

If so, the answer to your question would be in the license that came with the font.

Many fonts allow you to use them freely for personal use, but require a paid license for commercial use (which could be for profit or non profit).

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Incorrect. Fonts are most definitely protected by copyright in the US. You are thinking about the typeface. The font file is copyrighted, the typeface that the font creates isn't. –  thomasrutter Apr 22 '13 at 7:20
    
You are correct in that the 'code' itself is copyrightable (as would be any software). However, the visual design itself is not. –  DA01 Apr 22 '13 at 7:42
    
That is correct. So the issue is probably in your use of the word "font", which in my book is a digital file used to create lettering in a given typeface. –  thomasrutter Apr 22 '13 at 7:44
    
Are you saying that the design of individual characters (I think they are called "glyphs") are not protected by copyright? So let's say I saw a web page with the individual characters all displayed and I took those designs and made an identical font on my own (a prefect replacement, but not the original), and then I used my font file to reproduce the look of the font identically, I would be legally in the clear? –  Tom Dworzanski Jul 15 '14 at 0:24
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@TomDworzanski in the US only, the design of the glyphs in a typeface is not copyrighted. However in many other countries it is. In the US you can in theory reproduce a typeface in a new font without infringing. However, it wouldn't be possible to make it "identical" without infringing, because making it identical would require referring to the original font file. What you can do is print the letters to paper, then make a font from those letters, in a clean-room situation (eg the designers of the new font don't refer to/have access to the old font). –  thomasrutter Jul 15 '14 at 0:54

As per the font, if it's licensed, you can't use it, on non profit sites or any other application.

You could instead use Google Fonts. It has a huge collection and many fonts are free.

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All fonts on Google fonts are free, and that means not only free to use but free to share. –  thomasrutter Feb 12 at 11:25

In the United Kingdom, the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 specifically allows the use of fonts without infringing copyright.

54 Use of typeface in ordinary course of printing.
(1) It is not an infringement of copyright in an artistic work consisting of the design of a typeface—
(a) to use the typeface in the ordinary course of typing, composing text, typesetting or printing,
(b) to possess an article for the purpose of such use, or
(c) to do anything in relation to material produced by such use;
and this is so notwithstanding that an article is used which is an infringing copy of the work.

However you do commit an offence if you don't get the correct licence for the font in the first place. You need the right licence to create the copies of the fonts you intend to use: perhaps a straightforward TTF file, maybe a web-font version or something else.

17 Infringement of copyright by copying.
(1) The copying of the work is an act restricted by the copyright in every description of copyright work; and references in this Part to copying and copies shall be construed as follows.
(2) Copying in relation to a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work means reproducing the work in any material form. This includes storing the work in any medium by electronic means.

You may find that the font owner will only charge a low fee to allow you to download the font and produce the versions you need to use. Once you have the font, the font owner can't impose royalty charges in the UK.

Other jurisdictions may differ.

This answer does not provide definitive legal advice in the UK or other jurisdictions. If you want legal advice, ask a lawyer.

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This is a little confusing (but, then again, what legal text isn't. ;) Is this referring to the copyright of the type design itself, or is it in reference to copying other works of published art using a typeface? I'm also not clear about the 'font owner can't impose royalty charges' refers to. Wouldn't that be dependent on the particular license agreed to with the typeface distributor? –  DA01 Apr 19 '13 at 22:27
    
To use a font, you need to create your own copy of the artwork (eg copy the TTF file to your computer). That activity is licensable. Using the font in a typographical arrangement (laying out letters) is not licensable at all under UK law. That even applies if the original copying was unlicensed. None of this applies to copying existing typographical arrangements which are copyright for 25 years from their original publication. –  Andrew Leach Apr 20 '13 at 6:47
    
Regardless of whether it's technically correct I believe this answer confuses the issue by speaking about a use/obtain distinction not relevant to the question, which is more about whether there is some copyright exemption allowing you to obtain and use a commercial font without paying if you do not intend to make a profit. At least that is my interpretation of what the question is asking, though admittedly it is not well specified. –  thomasrutter Feb 12 at 11:41
    
@thomasrutter Unfortunately obtaining and use have to be separated. Use is fine and cannot be restricted. How you obtain the font matters. The answer applies only to the UK, and that is explicitly stated in the first four words. –  Andrew Leach Feb 12 at 12:40
    
I know this, but I don't think this is relevant to this question and I think talking about it confuses the issue. My interpretation is it's fairly clear the question is about both obtaining and use. YMMV. –  thomasrutter Feb 12 at 22:42

Answer: No

There is no copyright exemption allowing you to obtain and use a commercial font without paying for it if you do not intend to make a profit.

You need a license to obtain any font (unless you designed and created the font yourself) regardless of the way you intend to use it.

That said, if you have already obtained the font, and you did so legitimately, then there is no restriction against using it.

Legitimate ways of obtaining a font, with a license, include:

  • A font came bundled with other software and you obtained the whole bundle legitimately.
  • You bought a font from a commercial font foundry/retailer.
  • You obtained a font that has a free license, such as the SIL Open Font License, or just a "free for use" license.

In addition to this, the question loosely uses the term "non-profit", but that term is not appropriate here. "Non-profit" is an official designation given to organisations satisfying certain criteria. Your use may not even qualify as "non-commercial" because even though you say you won't be making any money from your project, if it is used in a commercial setting, where for example it may have the effect of promoting or advertising a business, it's still commercial.

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