An increasing collection of fonts are being released for free, but the majority of fonts require a license. For any given font, it's possible to find many versions online, both legal and not. There are always places willing to sell you a font, as well as sites from which to download free version. Obviously I don't want to pirate a font that's within copyright, but I also don't want to give money to a charletan instead of the copyright holder, or pay for a font that's actually free.
How can I establish:
- Who the copyright holder for a given font actually is?
- Whether two fonts with the same or similar name and design are actually the same?
- Whether a font can be legally used for free or not?
- Where best to buy from?
Edit: to pick an example font at random, try Clarendon. It was designed in 1845 by a now-defunct foundry, was registered under Britain's new patent laws and entered the public domain 3 years later. Even the Mickey Mouse act doesn't last for 167 years.
If you google it, several of the first results offer the font as a free download. But also in there are MyFonts, FontShop and Identifont, which say the font is owned by Adobe and/or Linotype, and encourage you to buy it. I've yet to see any font that Identifont doesn't say you should purchase.
So who is to be believed?