Re: New work on fonts at W3C

Mikko Rantalainen wrote:
> I'll repeat the parts that I feel were important:
> (1) Commercial font vendors do not want to license their fonts for web
> (2) Effective DRM system does not exist

The problem is neither that commercial font vendors do not want to
license their fonts for web, nor that there is a need for an effective
DRM system for fonts.

The problem with fonts, as perceived by the commercial font vendors, is
that digital fonts are highly usable across various media, and that they
are highly re-usable.

You may try to dismiss the following, but please try to take my word for
it: fonts are much more re-usable than any other kind of digital
content. Text, images, music, film or other graphic content is mostly
only useful in one particular context. This kind of content often makes
sense just in connection with other kinds of content that is of similar

There are exceptions, of course: news headlines and short news reports
are very useful in a variety of contexts, and this is why companies such
as Reuters are objecting to services such as Google News to the point
where they seem to regret to having themselves invested into
technologies such as RSS. Now they think they shot themselves in the
foot, because it is the aggregators such as Google News that are cashing
on the content rather than the content originators.

Those kinds of content I mentioned are also of limited use across
different media. For print use, high-resolution CMYK-based PDFs are
images are useful, but on the web, you will rather find low-resolution
RGB images.

In addition, content that is directly consumed and directly takes screen
real estate (such as text or graphics) can be refinanced to some extent
by the inclusion of ads.

With fonts, it *is* all different. In this regard, fonts are more like
software than they are content. Fonts do not represent content
themselves, but are rather highly flexible, repurposeable digital assets
that assist in content presentation -- much more like ActionScript or
JavaScript used to "drive" a website. But then, lots of complex software
is highly tied to particular website implementations or runs on servers
altogether, so it's rather difficult to repurpose it in an unauthorized

But fonts are small, enclosed, yet highly performant digital files that
take months or years to design and develop, and once done, can be used
to style the content in a vast number of different contexts. With
non-Latin writing systems, the complexity even increases, and
well-developed, highly-complex fonts so much as allow proper rendition
of text that was previously unreadable (so it's not just about stylistic
variety but about the question of orthographic correctness).

And, the digital fonts in OpenType format are as performant that you
could see them more like the "studio master tapes" for music than the
compressed MP3 files.

What the commercial font vendors want is not really a technical measure
to completely prevent others to obtain the font file and re-use it (in
other web contexts or in different media). In most cases, they do not
want an impenetrable wall. Much rather do they want some simple way to
put a fence around their property and put a label on it that says "no
tresspassing". Jumping the fence is doable. The fence is a psychological
and legal barrier, rather than a viable technical one.

Simply speaking: commercial font vendors do not want that any user grabs
their font from a website that uses it, downloads it and uses it for his
own purpose (install on his desktop system and use it in a text
processing application such as Word, or graphic design application such
as InDesign or Photoshop). Commercial font vendors would prefer if
desktop fonts stayed desktop fonts, and web fonts stayed web fonts.
Also, commercial font vendors would like to be able to put a label into
a web font that says "this font belongs to this website". Nothing more.

The EOT font format submitted to W3C by Microsoft and Monotype Imaging
( ), and implemented in Microsoft
Internet Explorer for Windows since version 4.0 delivers just that: it
uses a different container package (.eot) that is not directly usable on
a desktop system, and it uses a simple way to label the website which
the font has been licensed for.

It's not a technical copy protection mechanism. It is technically
trivial to convert an .eot file into a .ttf file that is usable on the
desktop. But the different packaging prevents "accidental misuse" -- it
is like the fence. And the labeling that ties the font to a particular
website is like the "no trespassing" sign. If a user decides to jump the
fence anyway, he or she will be aware that they are crossing a social or
legal norm. It's this low-hanging psychological barrier that the
majority of the commercial font vendors wants, and would be happy with it.

Best proof for that is that just two weeks ago, one of the largest
commercial font vendors in the world (Monotype Imaging, that controls
the Monotype, Linotype and ITC font libraries, with some 4,000 OpenType
fonts in their combined assets) has introduced a new font license that
allows users to use any of their licensed fonts on any non-commercial
website -- but only if they do so using the .eot web font format rather
than using the .ttf or .otf desktop font formats directly.

Here's the announcement:

As I explained, most commercial vendors don't want an "effective DRM
system". They want a simple psychological barrier that makes
unauthorized font reusal "just a bit less than trivial". EOT delivers
that. It is publicly specified, ready-to-use, and already implemented in
one of the major web browsers.



Adam Twardoch
| Language Typography Unicode Fonts OpenType
| | |

The illegal we do immediately.
The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
(Henry Kissinger)

Received on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 14:08:14 UTC