Font Embedding

486 words3 min read

Current proposals to include fonts in the web do not address intellectual property issues properly. Fonts embedded in webpages can be taken out and used elsewhere by anyone who wants to. OpenType does not really change that, it just means another format that can be taken out with the same ease. Although the companies involved in webfonts, such as Adobe and Microsoft, talk a lot about ‘protecting intellectual property’, they do not have a clue on how to go about it. But they seem to be willing to risk their libraries anyway, by porting existing technology like PDF to a networked environment. Problems with font security that might have been acceptable in the office world scale up exponentially on the net and become a threat to the type industry.


The safety of embedded fonts in current proposals relies mostly on the honesty of the client software. Browser builders are kindly urged to not take advantage of the lack of protection, but that leaves a lot of opportunity to more dubious ‘developers’ to build utilities that suck fonts from webpages and present them in some usable format. It is naive to think this will not happen. Web documents with embedded fonts will cause broadcasting of proprietary typefaces. Although it is possible to think of new structures of payment for typefaces along these lines, there are no concrete proposals in this direction. In contrast, the technology to include fonts in webpages is a reality: though perhaps not available to everybody right now, it works and can be made available to the general public. Embedding is a threat to all type manufacturers and type designers. Most of typeface sales are still for printing and other more conventional uses. Broadcasting the same fonts online will affect the conventional market as well. Why buy a font if you got it for free last night? Adapting end-user licenses for fonts or even policing the networks with font-bots is not going to keep people from taking and using the fonts they find online. The web needs good graphic design and typography. The web also needs ways to reassure authors of all disciplines and make them confident their works do not become public domain when published online (unless they want it themselves of course). For fonts that could mean developing a smarter format. Not just another data structure with points in it, but a real application. Such a font can interact with users, perform typographic tricks that were previously unthinkable. The font would also be able to protect itself and report to the owner. When it is tampered with it dies, when it is copied it will make its new owner register first. In the mean time, HTML support for some form of bitmap fonts (although not perfect) will provide some time to develop something better for use on webs and nets that satisfies both designers and users of type.