Customers are usually proud of their (offline) identities. As webdesigner, I regularly find myself having to explain that I can't legally use their licensed font in their webdesign. When I do, it always ends up as either a long e-mail or me talking to them on the phone, knowing I lost them halfway through.

Is there a good and concise way to explain how online fonts work and don't work?

4 Answers 4


I would use an analogy. It may over-simplify things, but hopefully it will get the point across.

Relating it to something that is more common might help, for example a movie. When you buy a DVD, you have the permission to watch the movie in your home with friends, you can lend it to your friends, but you do not have the right to show the movie at a public park with 1,000 other people watching

  • 1
    an analogy was what popped into my mind, but I didn't find a good one until now! Thanks, @John!
    – Vincent
    Apr 19, 2013 at 15:39
  • A person who doesn't grasp font licensing may be just as unlikely to know that you don't have the right to show a DVD in a public place. I wouldn't be surprised if that was news to a lot of people. Apr 22, 2013 at 7:39

Fonts are software.

Software is licensed for specific uses.

Web use is not within the permitted use of the font you've selected.

A license for web use can be purchased for a $xx. This would allow that particular font to be used for your web site.


Just explain it in plain English:

"Using this font on the web requires an additional license, which is [$xxx per year / $xxx per 10,000 page views / not available for this font].

"Consequently I recommend that you [use some other font instead / pay $xxx for an additional license for 12 months]."

It's really not that hard to understand that using a font on the web requires an additional license. You don't need to explain the ins and outs of font licensing, etc.

One thing you should probably note, too, is that even for non-web work, you probably still need another license. The client's font license won't cover use of that font by you (even if they have a multiple-desktop license, it is unlikely to cover usage on desktops not owned by them).

It would be appropriate to figure out the fonts you'll be using and account for their licensing costs, both desktop and web licenses, when you draw up your initial quote/estimate for the client.

  • I disagree with your statement that it's not hard to understand. I thought it was, too, but in practice I have run across customers who are hard to convince. If I were to use your suggestion, it's their 'why should I pay that?' reaction that gives me problems.
    – Vincent
    Apr 22, 2013 at 10:14
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    "Why should I pay that?" - "Because that is the cost that the font maker charges for using this font online. If you prefer, we could choose a suitable alternative that would not cost anything extra." - just my suggestion. Make it a choice of two things - pay the money or don't use the exact font. Don't make it a choice between infringing and being honest - if that's the way the client thinks, then I feel for you as it sounds like a difficult client. Apr 22, 2013 at 10:41

I would explain it as such:

Your identity was designed without the web in mind. It's great for all of your print communications, but we need to make some updates and enhancements for your web presence so that we're adhering to the spirit of your identity, but also accommodating the medium and your customers.


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