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I'm a newbie and haven't had this happen yet — I have a client with a set brand, and I do not own one of her font types. What should I do? Do I ask her for the file? It's not free...

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It'll depend.

Some companies will own the font outright (being a font they paid to have created).

Some companies will have a license for the commercial font that they can allow their vendors to use (designers and printers).

Some companies won't have either.

At that point you have a few options. If it's a font you think would be useful elsewhere--you go ahead and purchase a license and treat it as a part of doing business (just as buying a computer is). Otherwise, if it's a font unique to only this client, then you'd want to stipulate in your contract that you will bill the client directly for a license.

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Depending on the Font you're probably out of lucky. Most Font Licenses do not allow for distribution for example the foundry, House Industries, has the following terms:

ABOUT DEVICES

The base purchase price of your House Industries fonts includes a license for use on ten (10) devices owned by the same entity or individual. A device is defined as a computer, printer, character generator, vinyl cutter or any other machine that uses font data to rasterize letterforms. Please choose the appropriate number of devices from the dropdown list.

Just to be clear based on Phil's comment, the above is just one example but one that I've found to be fairly common. To add another example, Process Type Foundry: https://processtypefoundry.com/licensing/our-license-agreement

For example, the purchase of a single license allows for the installation and use of the Font on one (1) computing device. Fonts may not be stored or used in any manner that makes them accessible to the public or non-licensed third parties. For the purposes of clarity, this license is for individual users or organizations purchasing for authorized employees only. Under no circumstances may the licensed Font be shared with contractors, freelance employees, or affiliates.

Note the part I bolded which is fairly standard. You could ask what the font is and check the License of that foundry but more than likely its similar to the above. You'll have to either discuss with your client alternatives, purchase the font and do your best to expense it, or work-around not having it (for example is it just their logo in that typeface that you could use .eps for or does the body of catalogs and business cards and such need it as well?).

There's really two cases I would think:

  1. The client knows they used an expensive font and should then be willing to shell out money for proper design in which case you bill them accordingly. I wouldn't just bill them for you to license the font, but I would charge enough that you'll break even quickly and turn a profit if they stay a client. Maybe even in one project, that's your call.
  2. The client has no idea their first designer used an expensive font in which case your best bet is to find more affordable alternatives that are similar and offer them different options along with the prices, so they can make the decision on whether or not they want to invest in a more expensive typeface.
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    Surely the legality depends specifically on the legal agreement the client has with the foundry? Assuming the above clause applies in this case would seem a bit premature unless we know how the client licenses their fonts, or they are a small outfit who must have bought the font. – Phil H Sep 9 '15 at 7:53
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    Given the above licence, one alternative would be for you to borrow a computer from company (who would still own it) for the duration of the project upon which to perform the necessary work. – bye Sep 9 '15 at 11:34
  • @PhilH I didn't say the above applies, just an example. I added a second one just to try and make that a little clearer. There are certainly other EULA's but this is what I've found to be the most common. – Ryan Sep 9 '15 at 11:41
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    I don't think that clause to exclude freelancers or contractors is enforcable. A contractor working for a company is entitled to act as a member of that company as long as the resource is used exclusively for those purposes. It is clear they want to shut down use across clients but I can only see it successfully being upheld where there was that type of misuse. – JamesRyan Sep 9 '15 at 12:35
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If you are hired to do a job for a client, and they have specific style guides, such as font and colors, it is up to them to provide you with everything that is required by their business standards. Therefore, if they are using a specific custom font, they should be able to provide you with it. If they own the license to it, they are free to use it within license limitations. If they do not own the license to it, you have to inform them of repercussions of using unlicensed material, and ultimately it is up to them if they want to take the risk or not.

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    "If they own the license to it, they are free to use it as they see fit." = this is not true. They are free to use it as the license they agreed to sees fit. – DA01 Sep 9 '15 at 15:55
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    @DA01 true some licenses have restrictions. But if the company is large i.e. corp....that usually comes with less restrictions as far as shareware goes...i ve edited my response. – Stanley VM Sep 9 '15 at 15:57
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You could purchase the font with two possible options:

  1. Eat the cost because you will have recurring work from your customer and you will then own the license for the font to use in other work.

  2. You could charge the client a one time fee explaining why it is necessary that you purchase the font (then maybe not use it in other applications, since they paid for it). Some of the explanations about fonts in these answers could help that conversation.

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