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Designers Protest US Font Copyright Law Changes That Hurt Their ‘Livelihoods’
By Mikelle Leow, 11 Sep 2018
Image via Shutterstock
A new US policy that makes it difficult for designers to copyright typefaces has been widely opposed by creative professionals.
According to a letter sent by design law firm The Martinez Group PLLC to Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is in the process of changing its font software protection policy, which will limit designers the right to copyright their work through the submission of XML files.
For context, typefaces were deemed uncopyrightable in 1988, but the decision overturned in 1992. Since then, type designers have been able to apply for ownership of their work with XML files.
“Currently, the artistic and design decisions of a type font designer are executed and compiled by special type font design software into a computer file [XML] that enables the display and or printing of letterforms using the design created by the designer/author,” Martinez explained.
Now, a new law expects that every line of the code must be written by the designer—and it must be able to “instruct the computer” to perform functions. Creatives might find this rule odd; a lot of typefaces in the market aren’t “designed” by entering code.
Besides, Martinez pointed out that it’s “not uncommon” for type files to “exceed 1,000 pages” of XML source code. To write your own from scratch would be absurd; “[T]he protection of the subject computer code [would be] almost entirely impossible.”
“[The requirement] threatens the font design industry and has significantly endangered the businesses and livelihoods of many US citizens,” the firm added. “These entrepreneurs provide typeface font software to users and companies around the world.”
Ironically, Copyright Examiners have agreed that typefaces are often created visually, and are usually not the product of computer code. They inaccurately described the design process as simply “selecting points,” and in order to hold ownership of their typefaces, designers need to back the work with literary sources.
However, since most XML files of typefaces do not contain “a sufficient amount” of literary authorship, coupled with the Office’s argument that an XML document does not qualify as computer code that “instruct[s] the computer to perform any operational functions,” these applications cannot be approved.
Writing back to Martinez, Copyright Examiner C. DiFolco said, “The Copyright Office cannot register a claim to copyright in typeface or mere variations of typographic ornamentation or lettering. The Office may, however, register computer programs that generate a typeface provided that they contain a sufficient amount of literary authorship.”
“XML code is a type of markup language,” DiFolco and the Office insisted. “Markup languages are designed for the processing, definition, and presentation of text. They do not instruct the computer to perform any operational functions…”
“Since our practices stipulate that the Office may register a computer program that generates a typeface, a work consisting of markup language which creates a typeface does not meet this requirement.”
Creative Abraham Lee commented that the changes were, “very disturbing,” but also telling of the misconceptions tied to most software tools. “Just point, click, and out comes a magically perfect [name any digital product]! See how easy it is? Anyone can do it, even little Timmy and your 150-year old grandmother!’”
The whole case is simply bizarre. You can head over to forum TypeDrawers to find out more about it, as well as grab a template written by The Martinez Group PLLC to have your say about the new law.
[via TypeDrawers, cover image via Shutterstock]
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