This question might be kind of stupid... but I am looking into creating multiple websites featuring a couple different fonts from Typekit and other places.

I was just wondering... if I have a font on my computer that doesn't say "Non-commercial use only" or something like that can I put it on web without a problem?

Thanks! And ask me if you need any more clarification.

  • I think I might have misinterpreted your question. Let me know if that's the case :P
    – Brendan
    Sep 17, 2013 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


In short, two good rules of thumb:

  1. Don't use a font professionally without knowing what the license is.
  2. Assume a font has a license and go find it.

IANAL. From a legal standpoint, fonts are treated like software when it comes to licensing. That's why I can't e-mail you a Helvetica font file, but I can create a line of text with your name on it, outline it, then e-mail you the outlines.

When you talk about 'a font on your computer,' are you referring to fonts bundled with the system? If so, Apple or Microsoft either made the fonts themselves or they licensed the fonts from others for use on their system. Just as you shouldn't lift GarageBand, FreeCell, or an MP3 codec from your computer to use on another system, the same is true with your font files.

If you downloaded from the Internet, it should have come with a license. If you didn't, it puts you in what I suppose could be a legal gray area. But if HF&J took you to court for using Gotham and your defense argument is "I did a Google search for Gotham and found a free download for it and there was no license that told me I couldn't use it," you're probably going to have a bad day.

That example seems obvious and of course you wouldn't do that, but that's the mindset I have when I consider font usage.

It stinks sometimes, because you'll find some funky little font that does exactly what you want, you try to track the typographer down, and you find it was released on GeoCities ten years ago with a @compuserve.net e-mail address. Yeah, he probably doesn't care if you use his font commercially, and he might have just been too indifferent to make a proper license file to bundle with his font. But if you want to be sure you're okay, then you can't use the font without some kind of permission or license.

  • Ok, thanks a lot! Yeah, I've downloaded multiple fonts on my computer. So, I'll be sure and check those licenses. :) Sep 17, 2013 at 22:41
  • Brendan you make a very good point about avoiding legal grey areas. A good rule of thumb is that if you're not sure if you are licensed for a particular use (due to the license being vague or not being able to locate a legit license from the author), assume that you aren't. Sep 18, 2013 at 2:48
  • The outlines of a font are a derivative work and are covered by the font copyright in most jurisdictions. Sep 18, 2013 at 6:44
  • @AndrewLeach - what does that mean practically? I know if I make a logo using Helvetica I haven't violated any copyright...but I also understand that if I get a set of outlines to someone and they plugged it in a font file, that'd be no good.
    – Brendan
    Sep 18, 2013 at 11:49
  • In the UK, using a font is specifically and explicitly allowed by the Copyright Designs & Patents Act. Adapting a font (for example, creating a variant, or outlines, or whatever) is creating a derivative work. This reflects practice in most jurisdictions. See Section 54 CDPA. Sep 18, 2013 at 11:59

if I have a font on my computer that doesn't say "Non-commercial use only" or something like that can I put it on web without a problem?

Unfortunately not. Web embedding is one use for which you'd need a separate, specific license.


Most times when you use a font, as long as you have the font file on your computer legally and are using it according to its license, you can do what you want with it.

However in the case of embedding the font as a web font, you are, according to the law, creating and distributing a derived version of the font file. This is because creating a web font from a desktop font on your computer means you're feeding the font file (which is protected by copyright) into a conversion process where it is converted into another format, and you are sharing that converted font file on the web.

Technically, when you upload a web font, you are giving anyone who visits your site the ability to download that font.

According to copyright law you would need to have explicit permission from the creator to do this, as it's not a permission that is granted by default - and it may be hard to argue fair use when making something available on the web.

In order to do this, you need a license which permits the creation and distribution of derivative works.

Web font licenses

Rather than give licenses which say "you can create and distribute derivative works", what font foundries tend to do is sell separate web font licenses which specifically apply to using them as a web font.

Web font licenses often come with conditions attached which specify the monthly number of page views your site is allowed to receive and still use the font, or it may even be sold on a subscription basis where you pay an ongoing fee.

  • Ah...great to point out that Web/desktop distinction! I missed that.
    – Brendan
    Sep 18, 2013 at 4:02

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