Fonts: Copyright & Cyber Security Issues To Know About

I strongly believe that everyone should have a basic understanding of fonts, also known as typefaces, because we all interactive with and use fonts on daily basis.  Fonts can turn a boring, mundane flyer or presentation into a beautiful, engaging way to share information with an audience. Below I’ll discuss some important points to know about copyright protection for fonts, security risks that fonts can bring about, and a few resources for safely finding fonts to use. Please, do everyone a favor and never use Comic Sans!

Are Fonts Eligible For Copyright Protection?

Most people aren’t aware of that fact that fonts are eligible for copyright protection! ‘How?’ you may be asking? Fonts are eligible for protectable under U.S. copyright law as computer programs! The source code is the key to protection. The thinking behind this lack of direct protection for fonts is that the elements being protected are simply letters or words, directly referenced in 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a) and (e). Copyright protection does not extend to “useful articles.” It’s similar to how the design of a car may be protected by copyright, but the underlying idea, or utilitarian nature, of a car cannot be protected. You can read more over at the Copyright Office website’s Compendium 900, specifically 906.4 on page 13, including some examples of when typeface may be eligible for protection.
Because fonts can be protected under copyright law as computer programs, many commercial fonts require the payment of a license fee in order to use them. Fonts made available for ‘free’ may, in fact, have restrictions placed on their use. For example, a designer can make a font available for download to anyone for free, but for non-commercial use.  This means that whoever downloads the font cannot use it for a commercial purpose. That may include uses in advertisements, films, television, and on a t-shirt or coffee mug for sale. When using a font, make sure to understand the uses you are granted by its designer or owner.

Fonts Can Cause Security Risks

Have you ever received a document, PDF, or other computer file that uses a font not currently installed on your operating system? It’s tempting to ask the person to send it to you (which could be copyright infringement). It’s also tempting, specifically in time-sensitive situations, to search the web and try to find a download of it. You should never install a font you find by running a Google search. It’s simple to install malicious software without realizing it.
Instead, here are some alternative steps to take:

  • Most programs will tell you upon opening a document that a font is missing and identify the name of the font. Try to find the font for purchase on a legitimate retail website, such as, Creative Market, or Linotype.
  • Check with the person that sent you the file. They can (hopefully) lead you to the legitimate site to purchase a copy for your own use. Remember, some fonts are protected by copyright and require a license to use.
  • If you work for a company, your IT or graphic design team is great resource. They can check for an existing corporate license for the font that may be on record. There may even be a chance that a graphic designer can offer a substitution for the font, keeping the document’s formatting the same.

Finding Free & Open Source Fonts

If you are looking to use some exciting fonts for your presentation or document, you should check out Google Fonts. It’s a free, open source spot for finding and downloading fonts. As Google explains on their website, “Google Fonts takes care of all the licensing and hosting, ensuring that the latest and greatest version of any font is available to everyone.”
Another site I recommend is However, I advise caution when going to select from the available fonts. Each font specifies the type of license granted for use and should not be violated. Many are not for commercial use without payment of a license fee. Justin He over at pulled together a list of over 30 free sites you can use to grab some free fonts. Check it out!
Do you have any recommendations on sources for fonts? Let me know in the comments!

Additional Resources

In my former life as a graphic designer, I actually did a self-study on fonts.  I highly recommend Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton (Amazon Affiliate link) as a nice primer on typography and design.  There’s also a surprisingly interesting documentary called Helvetica (Amazon Affiliate link) if you have some free time and want to learn more about the world’s most famous font (it’s seriously everywhere!).