Font Licensing 101: The basics of proper font usage

Here at Monotype, we have a little bit of experience with font licensing (okay, decades of experience), and can help you understand what a font license does—and does not—encompass.

Quick note from the Monotype legal department: The information included here pertains to Monotype font licenses only. The general parameters of font licenses tend to be similar between foundries, but other foundries may have unique requirements or restrictions in their contracts. Always read your licensing agreements closely.

Font licenses can appear overwhelming in their complexity. The contracts themselves are full of legal jargon and seemingly arcane restrictions on usage. In reality, font licenses are fairly straightforward as long as you understand their individual parts.

Fonts are intellectual property

Like art, music, or literary works, fonts are designed by real people and are protected by certain intellectual property rights. Beyond the design itself, fonts are software, engineered with features and flexibility that enable good design and usability.

Licensing gives you permission to use the font ...

When you license a font, you are not buying the font outright. You are acquiring permission to use it subject to the terms of the license agreement (also called an End User License Agreement or "EULA").  The license agreement spells out the ways you can and can’t use the font. If you use a font without a license or in a way that isn’t permitted by the license you potentially devalue the hard work that went into creating the font and open yourself up to legal action.

… and dictates how and where you can use the font

There are a few basic license types offered by Monotype, each pertaining to a different form of usage. Desktop licenses allow you to install a font on a computer; webfont licenses allow you to embed the font into a website or email; embedded licenses let you distribute fonts in a physical product like a medical device, cars, or in a software program; mobile app licenses allow fonts to be embedded in phone/tablet apps; ePub licenses cover usage in commercial publications; and server licenses enable web or cloud-based services and SaaS use cases.

Desktop vs. web fonts, explained

A typical desktop license allows you to install the font on your computer for use in design tools. Webfont licenses allow you to embed that font in the code for a website or email. So, whereas you might use a desktop license to create a mockup of a website using Adobe InDesign software, a webfont license is more about the implementation of the font in the actual code of a website.

Licenses also determine how many people can use the font …

Most desktop EULAs limit the number of “seats” or “workstations” that are allowed. Generally speaking, you must purchase additional licenses to add seats or workstations as needed.

… and, sometimes, how many people can view the font

Webfont licenses almost always limit the number of page views (whether on a cumulative or monthly basis) allowed, and digital ads licenses typically restrict the number of ad impressions that may be generated.

Fonts can’t be shared (mostly)

As mentioned above, the EULA will limit the number of workstations included. If you need to share the font, be sure to update your license to accommodate the additional installations (and make sure sharing is permitted by the applicable EULA).

Improper use can cause headaches

The use, distribution, or modification of a font outside the scope of a EULA can open you up to infringement claims. The consequences really depend on the scope and scale of the improper usage, and can be as simple as “truing up” for past usage, or more serious consequences.

If you have questions about your Monotype font license or font service subscription, give us a call today. Our experts can help you determine the appropriate license for your use-case, identify any issues, and develop a workable solution.