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SMEs harbouring 300 pirate fonts

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The average computer in a small business has 300 unlicensed fonts installed on it, leaving that company exposed to legal action, according to a leading typeface company. Monotype says the scale and importance of font piracy is being overlooked.

The company's Julie Strawson told OUT-LAW Radio, the weekly technology law podcast, that companies which did not ensure that they had licences for all fonts were opening themselves up to the same liabilities as they would if they used pirated software on their machines.

"The whole point of looking at fonts is to ensure you don't have any gaps in your software asset management process," said Strawson, the marketing director of Monotype for Europe. "You're really wasting your time if you don't include fonts, because you could still have security, workflow issues and be left with a liability at the end of the day if you don't include them."

Fonts are, in fact, software, and every one of them needs a licence. That includes not just those within a word processing or desktop publishing application, but those used by a computer's operating system or a television set top box's on screen messages.

Monotype sells a product called Fontwise which trawls computer systems, finds all the fonts sitting on it and tells a company which of them it has a licence for and which are illegal. Strawson says that those font audits can even save a company money.

"A number of large publishers use the [audit] service. Obviously most companies want to be legal these days, so they blanket license," she said. "They say 'I've got 600 users so I'll get a 600 user font licence'. But if you're designing a magazine there might only be two designers on the magazine that need the font, so by actually taking control they are now understanding that they can share font licenses better and cut out that blanket licensing and reduce costs. Future Publishing saved £25,000 in six months doing that, just on font software."

Most people receive fonts as part of software packages, where the licence for the fonts is paid for in bulk by the software manufacturer and that cost passed on to the customer.

Violations occur when a person sends a font to another person who does not have a licence for it. That often happens if someone is sending a document which needs a font which is not installed on the recipient's machine.

While it happens frequently between personal computer users, Monotype is particularly focused on businesses which use fonts without licences, and has joined anti-piracy lobby group the Business Software Alliance in order to clamp down on companies using unlicensed fonts.

Strawson said one industry which often uses pirated fonts is the design and publishing industry, which is more dependent than most on typefaces.

"This is a very big issue in the creative professional marketplace where graphic design goes on," said Strawson. "There's quite a culture we find that's quite tough to change, where fonts are sent along with jobs to printers and repro houses and so on."

"We're very keen to try and stop that illegal redistribution of fonts. It's very inexpensive when you consider that they are a necessary tool for the printer to produce his product and the printer is making a profit on that product," she said.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Related links

Font firm loses copyright claim
Red Hat settles font licensing lawsuit
Fonts need a licence – industry campaign begins
Check your fonts are licensed and legal
Adobe seeks court and arbitration rulings in font disputes
Typeface copyright decision in UK High Court

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