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Does copyright on Typefaces exist?

Intellectual Property

Not all countries recognise copyright on typefaces. The typeface consists of one or more fonts in specific sizes specifically created for stylistic coherence. The typeface consists of the letters of the alphabet, numbers, ideograms, symbols, and punctuation marks which may be needed for a specific style. Although typefaces copyright also relate to fonts, there is a difference between a typeface and a font. The typeface consists of a font family group while the font only refers to a particular font. One can for instance, get several Roman fonts which make up a typeface. The typeface will also include the italics and bold versions of the various fonts included in the typeface.

Copyright on typefaces exists to ensure that the typographers and font developers can get compensation for their creative work. The fonts making up the typefaces are measured in points and form part of the design ensuring copyright protection on the typefaces also include any size of such. The USA Copyright Office doesn’t recognise typefaces and therefore doesn’t allow registration for such. In Germany typefaces are not copyright protected, but can gain protection under the design patent laws of the country.

The UK recognised copyright on typefaces whereas in Switzerland there is a general lack of laws governing typeface design protection. Japan doesn’t recognise typefaces because it sees it as a widespread means to communication which would limit the usage thereof should there be typeface copyright. In South Africa, the publisher of a book can retain copyright on the lay-out and also typefaces used in the book. To make things more complicated, there are industrially produced and digitally produced typefaces.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement occurs where the copyrighted material of others is used for commercial gain as opposed to private or personal use. Copyright is NOT infringed when:

  • Copying a public speech or a lecture made for information purposes.
  • If work is acknowledged when one is copying or citing from another author’s work.
  • Making photocopies for private use. (work that is being used in academic institutions, research or for private use may be reproduced)
  • Photocopy government publications for public usage.

Avoiding Copyright Disputes: Always request the author’s permission to use his work, otherwise make reference to the author with details of the date of publication, the title of his film, his publisher, a link to his website, etc.

Posted on 7 March 2011
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