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How do I Copyright a Font?

By L.J. Stone
Updated May 16, 2024
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Most countries follow the copyright regulation that states a font as seen on a screen or as passed through the Internet is not an artistic creation and therefore is not subject to copyright. The plan for the design strategy of a font, however, is considered artistic and is copyrightable. Therefore, to copyright a font, an author must preserve its plans, or ingredients, in a software program. Font-writing software programs and outline font editors, or the mathematical codes that determine the shape and nature of a font, are considered creative works and as such are copyrightable. By copyrighting the components of a font, the author would ultimately copyright a font by default.

A software program or outline font editor that is sold or distributed may be protected with a license. Most font writers use an End User License Agreement (EULA). This is a document written by the author defining the user's rights and limitations. While an EULA is a self-written document, consulting a lawyer to ensure that the language used will fully protect the author's rights is advised. Additionally, an EULA may be recognized in its country of origin but regulations may differ across international boundaries, and EULAs are not consistently recognized.

Although copyrights are the most commonly used versions of protection, they are also the most vague. Some countries may allow a font, or typeface, to be protected by a design patent rather than a copyright. The design patent is a useful, often powerful alternative when one cannot copyright a font. Many countries consider a work to be protected by a design patent either from the moment that it is created or upon registration with the appropriate government office. For example, works made within the European Union member countries are automatically protected by design patents for the first three years of their existence; the design patent may be extended for another 25 years by registration.

In recent years, two international copyright conventions have made copyright more accessible to people worldwide. These are the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). Under the Berne Convention, authors who are either nationals or domiciliaries of a member country, or who have published works in member countries either initially or within 30 days of the first publication, may claim protection under both the Berne Convention and the UCC. The UCC specifically allows for any formality in the copyright laws of a member country to be fulfilled by the copyright sign.

International treaties have helped improve national copyright laws in individual member countries. They do not, however, override the creator's local law. When seeking to copyright a font, it is important to find out the copyright laws of the host country and the international agreements that affect it.

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