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I've noticed that most custom fonts include a license.txt file that requests some amount of money for a commercial license.

I am interested in whether it is also necessary to license OS (Mac/Windows) included fonts for commercial use. As a side question, is font theft an issue in the industry?

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Found this in under 5 seconds. Literally. – b1nary.atr0phy Dec 25 '15 at 22:57
@b1nary.atr0phy So 4 years later you found a website that was created 1 year after the original date of the question.... Hmm. – Error 454 Dec 27 '15 at 1:21
@Error454 Sorry, but that page was created no later than 22 September 1998, with much the same look and contents as it has now. Doesn’t really matter either way (you got a good answer here), but the resource was available when you asked the question. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 14 at 9:44
@JanusBahsJacquet You've corrected the fact. I was attempting to point out the general douchebaggery tone that insinuates that due diligence wasn't done just because 4 years in the future, search engines and indexing are a hell of a lot better. – Error 454 Jan 14 at 23:37
up vote 12 down vote accepted

I am interested in whether it is also necessary to license OS (Mac/Windows) included fonts for commercial use.

Depends how you define "use". IANAL, but as far as I know, using a font you legally purchased (either separately or as a part of the OS) to create creative work, and redistributing the font as part of that work in a non-embedded form (i.e. as a bitmap or with the vectorized outlines of the letters) is always okay. Meaning that if you use a font to e.g. create a logo, the font's creator will usually have no rights to the logo. (See @e100's comment for an example that says otherwise. Be sure to always check the actual license.)

What is usually out of bounds, or limited, is redistribution of the original font "software" - including converting the font to another format, embedding it in a document, or in a web page using @font-face.

If in doubt, check out the font license that is supposed to be shipped with every font... Although I have no clue where that license is supposed to be e.g. in MS Windows. Maybe you'll have to contact Microsoft and explicitly request it.

Fonts shipped with Open Source OS's usually come with a less restrictive Open-Source license - see this question for a list. But note that the GPL may also inherently prohibit the redistribution in closed-source products under some conditions - check the license carefully before including the font in any product you sell.


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+1 for "If in doubt, check out the font license that is supposed to be shipped with every font". Font licenses vary wildly by font foundry and creator. – Philip Regan Jan 19 '11 at 11:54
The thing is, in the U.S. it was decided that, for the public good, typefaces can't be copyrighted, only the files themselves, which would be treated as software. So technically, any font you get your hands on legally can be used for any purpose you want so long as you don't redistribute the font file. This makes many of the license terms that font authors prescribe unenforceable. For instance, the "for personal use only" clause many free fonts come with would only be legally binding if you were trying to redistribute the font. You can in fact use the font for a commercial project legally. – Calvin Huang Jan 19 '11 at 13:15
"if you use a font to e.g. create a logo, the font's creator will have no rights to the logo". House Industries licence terms specifically require extra fees for logos for companies over a certain size in terms of revenue: – e100 Jan 19 '11 at 13:22
@Calvin: This is true, but the software license that accompanies most fonts (primarily Adobe, at least last I checked) that a font can be used to create a job but then another license must be purchased to actually print the job because a license must be purchased for each user of a font file. The USPTO can claim "public good" all they want, but without the file we don't have the font; all they did was perpetuate the art of the font, not the practical usage. – Philip Regan Jan 19 '11 at 14:53
@b1nary.atr0phy So useless that it warrants a comment 4 years later? – DA01 Dec 25 '15 at 23:31

IANAL but if you did want to distribute font files normally included with operating systems, or use them outside their OS context, they would need to be licenced appropriately.

You'd need to follow up with individual foundries (font companies) or their resellers.

Ascender, now part of Monotype, handle licencing for all Microsoft fonts though.

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As a side question, is font theft an issue in the industry?

Of course. Files required to do a job that are small and typically without DRM are going to be shared whether the foundries like it or not. OTF was (is) supposed to handle licensing, but it is looking more and more that some kind of font server is required for that to happen. Given the cost of available server applications and the fonts themselves (not to mention the overly-restrictive nature of most font licenses; you'd think Adobe hired the same lawyers as the stock photo industry), I don't see this scenario changing anytime soon for most designers.

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I thought Adobe didn't specifically disallow web embedding? – e100 Jan 19 '11 at 13:19
@e100: I don't do web work—only print—so I have no idea how their licensing works in regards to web. – Philip Regan Jan 19 '11 at 14:54
You can't steal a digital font. You can an infringe upon the font's license, though. Is it an issue? Sure. To what extent depends on who you ask. – DA01 Jan 19 '11 at 15:12
This 'answer' belongs in the comment section. Please don't pick and choose what you want to answer. You make no attempt to answer the actual question. – b1nary.atr0phy Dec 25 '15 at 22:59

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