Essay Preview: Typeface Protection
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Fonts have always been treated rather strangely under the law, as befits their rather strange nature: letterforms are indivisibly both useful and artistic. In most countries, and in all countries until recently, utility has taken precedence; i.e., it has been legal to copy fonts without permission or fee.
With the advent of personal computers and desktop publishing, the use of customized typefaces and fonts is becoming commonplace. Companies such as International Typeface Corporation (ITC), Monotype, Apple, Adobe Systems, and Microsoft are heavily involved in the typeface and font industry, employing artisans to develop typefaces and skilled engineers to encode those typefaces into fonts, and licensing the typefaces and fonts into products. Adobe Systems alone spent 5.8 million dollars on typeface production in fiscal 1992 . It may come as a surprise to many to discover that much of the product of this industry is afforded little or no copyright protection. In the view of some typeface designers, the lack of protection has injured designers both economically and artistically.
In India also they are not copyrighted. Even if they were artistic works, since they could
be registered as a design, section 15 (2) of the copyright act barred their registration (since 50 reproductions of the same had already been done).
The main question of typeface protection is: “Is there anything there worth protecting? To that the answer must certainly be: “Yes. Typeface designs are a form of artistic and intellectual property. To understand this better, it is helpful to look at who designs type, and what the task requires.
Who makes type designs?
Like other artistic forms, type is created by skilled artisans. They may be called type designers, lettering artists, punch-cutters, calligraphers, or related terms, depending on the milieu in which the designer works and the technology used for making the designs or for producing the type.
(“Type designer and “lettering artist are self-explanatory terms. “Punch-cutter refers to the traditional craft of cutting the master image of a typographic letter at the actual size on a blank of steel that is then used to make the matrix from which metal type is cast. Punch-cutting is an obsolete though not quite extinct craft. Seeking a link to the tradition, modern makers of digital type sometimes use the anachronistic term “digital punch-cutter. “Calligrapher means literally “one who makes beautiful marks. The particular marks are usually hand-written letters, though calligraphers may design type, and type designers may do calligraphy.)
It usually takes about seven years of study and practice to become a competent type designer. This seems to be true whether one has a Ph.D. in computer science, a high-school diploma, or no academic degree. The skill is acquired through study of the visual forms and practice in making them. As with geometry, there is no royal road.
The designing of a typeface can require several months to several years. A family of typefaces of four different styles, say roman, italic, bold roman, and bold italic, is a major investment of time and effort. Most type designers work as individuals. A few work in partnership (Times Roman(R), Helvetica(R), and Lucida(R) were all, in different ways, the result of design collaboration). In Japan, the large character sets required for a typeface containing Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana induce designers to work in teams of several people.
Although comparisons with other media can only be approximate, a typeface family is an accomplishment on the order of a novel, a feature film screenplay, a computer language design and implementation, a major musical composition, a monumental sculpture, or other artistic or technical endeavors that consume a year or more of intensive creative effort. These other creative activities can be protected by copyright or other forms of intellectual property protection. It is reasonable to protect typefaces in the same way.
The problem of plagiarism
A lack of protection for typeface designs leads to plagiarism, piracy, and related deplorable activities. They are deplorable because they harm a broad range of people beyond the original designers of the type. First, most type plagiarisms are badly done. The plagiarists do not understand the nature of the designs they are imitating, are unwilling to spend the necessary time and effort to do good work, and consequently botch the job. They then try to fob off their junk on unsuspecting users (authors, editors, and readers). Without copyright, the original designer cannot require the reproducer of a type to do a good job of reproduction. Hence, type quality is degraded by unauthorized copying.
Secondly, without protection, designs may be freely imitated; the plagiarist robs the original designer of financial compensation for the work. This discourages creative designers from entering and working in the field. As the needs of typography change (on-line documents and laser printing are examples of technical and conceptual changes) new kinds of typefaces are required. Creative design in response to such needs cannot flourish without some kind of encouragement for the creators. In a capitalist society, the common method is property rights and profit. In a socialist (or, in the past, royalist) society, the state itself might employ type artists. France, as a monarchy and as a republic, has had occasional state sponsorship of typeface design over the past 400 years. The Soviet Union has sponsored the design of new typefaces, not only in the Cyrillic alphabet, but also in the other exotic scripts used by various national groups in the Soviet Union.
Those who would justify plagiarism often claim that the type artists do not usually receive a fair share of royalties anyway, since they have usually sold their designs to some large, exploitive corporation. It is true that type designers, like many artists, are often exploited by their “publishers, but plagiarism exacerbates the problem. Plagiarism deprives the designer of decent revenues because it diverts profits to those who merely copied the designs. Plagiarism gives the manufacturer yet another excuse to reduce the basic royalty or other fee paid for typeface designs; the theme song is that the market determines the value of the design and cheap rip-offs debase the value of a face. For those interested in the economic effects of piracy, it is clear that plagiarism of type designs ultimately hurts individual artists far more