Survey: Hidden font risks could hurt your publication

February 4, 2014

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

PORTLAND, OR—A recent survey on font misuse by Extensis, a Portland, OR-based software company, could pose significant problems for companies that hire or utilize graphic designers.

According to the survey, more than 60 million fonts are activated across the globe daily and the average collection of fonts a designer has on hand is about 4,500.

Using fonts that are not legally purchased, the survey said, could lead to legal ramifications and could cost a company millions.

Extensis surveyed more than 2,550 graphic designers and creative professionals to learn about their font usage.

Even though fonts are licensed like any piece of software, the survey said they haven’t always garnered the same respect as other types of software.

“Every designer has his or her favorite fonts to use in projects. When moving from job to job, at one time it was common for a designer to fill up an external hard drive, ZIP disk or floppy with all of his or her fonts and bring it to the new job,” the survey explained.

The survey noted that 22 percent of the respondents still occasionally bring personal fonts into the office, and 24 percent had traded fonts with other designers.

Not all font transfers are considered inappropriate or prohibited by the font license. According to the survey, some “End User License Agreements … include the ability to transfer an actual font file to a printer or other output provider, as long as the person receiving the font has also purchased a license. There are also an increasing number of open source fonts that allow free transferal. It all depends on the terms of the license, so read them carefully.”


How do designers locate fonts?

• 93% Use fonts they already have.

• 56% Download new free fonts.

• 26% Purchase fonts before client approval.

• 32% Locate a copy of the font online.

The survey warned that it’s the 32 percent who are willing to locate fonts without the appropriate licensing that should be of concern to businesses.

“Fonts brought into the creative workflow this way may not be integrated into font servers, treated the same way as other assets and are easy to overlook when it comes time to buy creative assets for a project,” the survey said.

Font licensing lawsuits have cost some corporations millions. The survey noted that NBCUniversal has been engaged three times in lawsuits totaling more than $5 million.


Read font licenses carefully

Some fonts licenses prohibit using the font over a certain size, or charge more if they are used in a logo.

The survey noted that 25 percent of designers never read the font license.

“Font license comprehension can cause problems at many points in the creative workflow,” the survey noted. “Because there is not standardization of font licensing, there are potentially many license options available from each foundry—rights to embed fonts into PDFs, use in eBooks, use as Web fonts, in packaging, etc.”

This can lead to font tracking problems, the survey said.

To combat this, the survey offered some answers.

Divide current fonts into two groups—known licensed fonts and fonts of unknown origin.

“(Designers) can pull from the known pile, but when one is used from the unknown pile, a previous purchase can be researched. If the license is not found, one can be bought.”

Designers could also benefit from implementing a font server to manage the fonts, the survey said. “A Universal Type Server can manage fonts centrally and track licenses.”

“It is also important to formally educate every font user in your workflow about the importance of appropriate font licensing,” the survey said. “When people fully understand what’s at stake, they are less likely to tread in areas that could get your creative team in trouble.”

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