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I want to create ONLY images which have a creative commons license. I will need to use fonts in these images. What kinds of font licenses (noncommercial or commercial) would be compatible and allow me to do this? I live in the US and want to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. (CC BY-NC 4.0) I know that the SIL Open Font license on Google fonts allows this. Are there any kinds of licenses that would work as well?

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and what follows is not legal advice.

If you have a font licence to use a font (whether it's a paid font or not) you can legally use it to create an artwork that is creative commons, or you can even copyright it as you are the creator of the image. This includes all of the fonts that came pre-installed on your computer. You can basically use them for anything you want.

If this were not the case, graphic designers would not be able to copyright logos or their work if they contain any text written using a font, nor would they be able to sell copyrights to their clients. There would literally be no point buying a font licence if the font could not be used to make something.

Commercial (paid for) font licenses generally exist to prevent people from redistributing font files (like re-selling them, or giving them to third parties) or from altering or copying the font files, not to prevent their use in commercial or non-commercial artwork/images/documents. Using a font to make an image/document does not mean you are sharing the font file itself, so it doesn't break the terms of the licence. The font is only being used. So you are not limited to using only open fonts to create images you want to release under creative commons.

Open font licences generally exist to allow people to share font files, and often to modify the font files or create derivative font files. Again, this does not prohibit their use in artwork/documents, for either commercial or non-commercial work.

Some free fonts may come with a licence that prevents commercial use, and you would need to buy a licensed version of the font to use them commercially. You always need to check the licence to find out what you can and can't do with a font.

To answer your question more directly re open fonts, there are SIL OpenFont, Apache, and MIT font licences. There may be more, but those are ones I am familiar with.

Another source of open fonts is fontlibrary.org - Note: I have no affiliation with fontlibrary.

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  • Thanks for the great and exhaustive answer. It can be hard to disentangle these licensing issues, and I'm sure this answer will help other people searching for this question... Commented Feb 22 at 20:09
  • @idiotprogrammer I know the language in these licences is difficult. Just remember there is a difference between the font file (which is copyright), and merely using the font. Sometimes licences say very little about the latter, and just assume people will know that usage is allowed. I thought my answer was a bit rambling to be honest, but glad you found something useful in it.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Feb 22 at 20:28

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