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Linotype gets heavy over free ATM font downloads

That'll be DM30k please...

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German company Linotype Library GmbH is flexing its ATM font copyright muscles via 'cease and desist' letters with potential $30,000 legal tabs attached. The fonts in question do seem to be owned by Linotype (or to be strictly accurate, its parent company Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG), but are probably part of a batch that accidentally wandered into the shareware sector in the early 90s.

The fonts are frequently found for download on OS/2 sites, and have tended to propagate via mirrors, with the assumption that they're shareware propagating along with them. This was the case for Ian Manners, who runs www.os2site.com, and who contacted The Register after receiving his letter from Linotype.

The letter names the fonts, demands they be removed from the site immediately (Ian has done this), and that a written undertaking be sent to Linotype saying that he will "cease and desist from offering, selling and distributing" them. Ian however bridles at the last paragraph of the pre-prepared form Linotype has helpfully sent him:

"For any case of future violation, we herewith commit ourselves to pay to Linotype Library GmbH, Du-Pont-Str. 1, D-61352 Bad Homburg/Germany a penalty of DM 30,000.-- (Thirtythousand German Marks), plus 16 % VAT."

The "cease and desist" letter itself further complicates matters.

"Should you, however, fail to cede this undertaking you must expect our Australian lawyers [Ian is in Australia] to get in touch with you in order to legally enforce this statement. All expenses arising from this procedure will be for your account.

"At this stage we resist from charging you with expenses arising from indemnification, which are normally asserted by our company. However, we reserve the right to claim the costs involved in all legal proceedings against you. These costs come up to US $30,000. We ask you to send us a signed and valid crossed-check to settle this issue."

From this little lot it's not entirely clear whether committing to the DM30,000 if you sin again will be enough, whether Linotype is already claiming costs of $30,000, and what they mean by send us a cheque. And while it might seem easy enough to make the DM30,000 commitment, in reality it's perfectly possible to host copyright material in good faith without knowing you're infringing, so by doing so small enthusiast sites could be laying themselves open to massive bills they couldn't possibly pay.

What does seem clear is thatLintype is making heavy legal noises in order to clear the fonts off download sites. And strangely enough, the fonts themselves (Cascade, Flora, Frutiger, Helvetica, Isadora, Linotext, Linoscript, Optima, Palatino, Peignot, Present, Shelley and Univers), are currently on sale at Linotype Library's site.

The fonts Ian was hosting complicate matters further, in that internally they have an Adobe copyright stamp in them. Adobe itself sells the fonts in question, and labels them as Linotype's trademark on its site. It seems fairly clear that the fonts are Linotype's property, and that even people offering cloned versions under the same names are going to be vulnerable to legal threats. From the Linotype letter, however, it doesn't seem to be the case that they're universally trademarked throughout the world, which could make actual legal action complicated.

Ian is currently awaiting their next move (the stated deadline is this Thursday). "They're heavy handed, against a little known website, when there are so many other sites hosting these fonts," he told The Register, and it's "not very diplomatic for a first contact." The Register is asking around to see if there's anybody else who's had a heavy letter - let us know if you have. ®

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