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ADA compliance for healthcare websites and all online businesses is becoming more and more important than ever. It’s also important that websites are compliant with copyright law.
You are probably aware that music and movies are protected by copyright law. After all, when you attend the movie theatre, there’s always at least one advert that tells you that it is illegal to take a video inside the venue.
But did you also know that these same copyright laws can also cover the font you use in your marketing campaigns and even in your business’ logo?
If you think about it, it makes sense. Font sizes and typography are vital to the way companies brand themselves to their customers. Breaching these copyright laws can land you in a lot of trouble.
You may even be breaking copyright law right now and not even realize it.
But first, here’s a bit of background to understand how copyright laws work and how you may be breaching them.
Copyright grants legal protection to those who create original works. In the US, the 1976 Copyright Act protects owners by giving them exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute and display their creations.
These are known as ‘rights’. Owners of works can sell these rights to other parties so they can use it for themselves. There is no need to register works with the US Copyright Office in order to protect it.
Copyright law does not protect typefaces in the US but scalable fonts are covered.
As long as you don’t copy the computer program to produce the font, you are not violating US copyright law and cannot be sued.
You can customize a typeface as part of a logo design. While the typeface won’t be subject to copyright, the logo design is classified as an artistic piece and therefore is covered. This includes the arrangements of the letters, the colors and even the spaces in between the letters.
A great example here is the Netflix typeface – the type is protected because it is the company’s logo.
So, with this being said, here are some frequently asked questions about fonts and whether or not you can be sued using them?
No. Credit is not the same as compensation or permission to use. If anything, this just goes to show how easily it can be to misunderstand copyright laws.
All rights belong to the creators. Since you didn’t create the font, you are violating copyright and could get sued.
The answer to this is slightly subjective.
While many free fonts allow unrestricted use, there will be some ‘free’ fonts that have been copied from other commercial businesses, leaving the door open to be sued by using the wrong font.
The takeaway here is to ensure that you have got the font from a reputable source and that you understand your own rights to use.
Don’t get us wrong, some free fonts are amazing and frequently used by businesses and individuals across the world. However, always be wary.
For example, some free fonts may only work in a certain size or not available to bold, italicize, etc.
Only if you have created it. In every other scenario, you are breaking the law and could be sued.
Saying this, there are some scenarios where if the End-User License Agreement (EULA) specifically allows you to do so.
This means that if you plan on giving the font to, for example, a client, they must purchase their own license to use it.
Logo designers tend to avoid font licensing problems by using programs like Adobe Illustrator to convert their logotype to outlines. It is then the outline that is sent onto clients, rather than font.
If you’re supplying a vectorized logo to a client, they won’t need to purchase the font. However, if they want to use the same font for their stationery, website, or marketing materials, they’ll need to own a proper license to that font to use it for those other purposes.
As long as you have the licensing to use that font, you are well within your rights to use that font as a logo.
It may be worthwhile making some subtle tweaks to the font so it can be distinguished from the original; otherwise, there’s always the risk that your logo will look just look like everyone else’s.
If this seemed rather complicated, you’d be right! So for that reason, here are some tips to avoid getting sued for using the wrong font.
Firstly, ask the creator for permission to use it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you’re unsure who created the content, search for it on Google or another search engine to see if it is currently in use.
Secondly, think about using creative commons or stock content. These are fonts that have purposely been created to be used by the public. Sites that Font Squirrel and 1001 Fonts are safe bets. Search Google for royalty-free fonts too but always be sure to look at the terms and conditions of use to ensure that they really are free to use.
Finally, and probably the most obvious, is to just create your own. To market effectively, and especially online, you are going to need something unique to set you apart from the competition. After all, sometimes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. There’s also the bonus that once you create your own font, it becomes copyrighted itself.
While, as we described it in the past, ADA compliance is vital to online businesses, it’s just as important to avoid using the wrong font or ensure you have correct licensing.
Always ask yourself if you have the rights to use it. If you do, then proceed to use it; if not then either create your own font or ask permission from the original creator.
If you are ever unsure, always check and avoid getting into unnecessary legal trouble.