A reader commented in the second instalment of the new English-language series: “In order to figure out whether I’m allowed to use a font in a certain way, I have to figure out where I got the file from, find that vendor’s web site, find the license, and parse the legalese—which is almost always rendered in tiny, poorly designed and difficult to read text—then apply it to my work.”
I believe this assumption is only half true. End User Licence Agreements are mostly common sense. For example, when you have to pay money to acquire something, it seems only logical that you can’t simply pass it on to someone else for free. My no-nonsense mind tells me this deprives the author of said product of income. You have no need for a EULA to realise this. Similarly, when you are a freelancer working on your own, it is self-evident that you only have to purchase a single licence and pay less to use fonts than an agency employing 20 people. Despite this obvious deduction I have noticed the concept of Multi-User Licensing (abbreviated to MUL) is not very well known.
Why are fonts licensed, and what does this entail? First the basics (this part is reprised from The FontFeed). The most important thing one has to keep in mind is that typefaces are creative works. Fonts are merely the physical manifestations of the creations of a type designer. (For the distinction between “typeface” and “font” please refer to Font or Typeface?, also on The FontFeed.) You can compare it to music, or movies, or similar artistic creations. When you purchase a DVD, you simply acquire the right to watch the creative work on that DVD. You don’t own the movie. The intellectual property rights to that movie remain with the director, producer,… This is the reason why – before the movie starts, or sometimes after it ends – a message warns you that “Unless otherwise expressly licensed by the copyright proprietor, any unauthorized copying, public performance, or any other distribution whatsoever, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited” and so on. The movie is not yours, so what you are allowed to do with it simply is not your decision to make.
Similarly, when you acquire digital type, you only own the “font” – the digital file which is the physical embodiment of a collection of letters, numbers, symbols, etc. – not the “typeface” – the design of this collection. Now very few people realise that, but all fonts are licensed, regardless if they are free fonts or commercial ones. When you receive a candy bar for free, the candy bar is yours. You eat it or you don’t, you give it to someone else, you use it in a diorama; whatever you do with it is your business. But even if you get a font for free, the typeface still remains the intellectual property of the type designer who created it. All you have is a license to use it. So regardless whether you paid for this license or got it for free, you are to comply with the end user license agreement. For example you can’t just tinker with the font and pass it on to someone else when the license doesn’t include the right to modify nor to distribute it. It simply is not your decision to make. Some licenses are universal and apply to all fonts of the same kind, while others have been specifically drawn up by a type designer or foundry for their personal body of work, sometimes even for one particular font.
What is a Single User Licence? A Single User Licence is the standard licence that comes with the fonts you purchase. This name can be misleading though. Let’s take a look at the relevant part in the EULA for the FontFont foundry. Although details may vary in EULAs from other foundries, this part is usually pretty much identical in all of them. Under 1. Definitions we read:
“Licensed Unit” means an installation of the Font Software that allows up to five (5) concurrent users to use it at a single geographic location. A single geographic location is in particular the site of your place of business. The geographic restriction does not apply to portable computers if they are owned by you.
Only a few foundries license fonts to literally one single user. Most Single User Licences apply to businesses with up to five people (this is the reason why you have to fill in the number of users when purchasing fonts). This means you pay for one licence and get four for free, not that you can get cute and ask for a single licence at one fifth of the retail price. It’s a bit like a car: even if you’re going to drive it on your own you still have a model that can seat five. All those users must be in the same office or building or whatever physical location, so your colleague in Timbuktu – or the next town or even just down the street – has to purchase a separate licence.
What is a Multi-User Licence? So the EULA tells us that the use of the fonts is limited to five users (pay one, get four for free, yay!). So what to do when your business has more than five people? This is covered under 2. Grant of License:
2.1. Number of users. FSI grants you a non-exclusive licence to use the Font Software in a Licensed Unit for your own personal or business purposes according to the terms of this Agreement. If the number of users who use the Font Software exceeds those set forth in the definition of Licensed Unit above, then you must request from FSI or its authorized Distributors an appropriate licence covering all users. An additional fee will be charged for this licence extension.
It only makes sense that a large agency needs more licences for their fonts than a single designer working alone. A large agency can create a much larger turnover, and make a bigger profit using those fonts. As fonts are production tools allowing the business to make better products they are licensed accordingly.
Let’s go back to the car analogy. A regular sedan seats one driver and four passengers – the single user and the four additional free users in the standard licence. Even if you only need to transport one single extra person, a sixth passenger, you still need a bigger model with more seats. More importantly the insurance doesn’t cover you if you transport more passengers than you have seats. To put it simply, the Multi-User Licence is the minivan, or the bus, or whatever mode of transportation you need for a specific amount of passengers.
And just like you don’t need ten cars to transport ten people, you don’t need ten Single User Licences to have ten people use the same fonts. Again I am using the FontFont licensing model as an example, so keep in mind the numbers may vary from foundry to foundry. A Single User Licence allows for up to 5 users. If for example you have 15 people working in your business you need a Multi-User Licence for 6–25 users, which only costs twice the Single User Licence price. This means the price per user drops dramatically, and the fonts become cheaper. A licence for 1–5 users for FF DIN OT costs €59, so €11,80 per user. A licence for up to 25 users costs €118, so €4,72 per user. A licence for up to 50 users costs €177, so €3,54 per user, and so on.
Photo by Edwin Lee What happens if my business outgrows my font licences? Friends of ours originally had two children, yet the wife got pregnant of twins. So they had no other option but to sell their regular-sized car and get a multispace-type vehicle. Fortunately as font users you can hold on to your original Single User Licence and simply apply for an upgrade. Contact FontShop and tell them how many users the MUL will be for. It is important, because just like your car insurance doesn’t cover more passengers than you have seats, your business can get in serious trouble if your font licences don’t cover the number of users in case of a BSA check (and we’ve had a few in Belgium and The Netherlands these past years; I’ve personally been in one). This costs you a whole lot more than simply upgrading your licences. If you are in doubt and need some assistance, you can always get in touch with FontShop who can help you audit your font collection.
A good read. But I do understand why there are so many doubts. Certain font-designers don't want you applying the font to logo's for example. Other fonts are free, but not for commercial use, some fonts you bought can't be used online, (or only as a .gif file with a maximum with), they can't be used in Flash files, or in Flash but not if it's type-in-motion, or not for TypeKit like solutions... Especially the online-part makes it complex...
25.08.2010 - 16.02.19
Posted by Marco
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