In the early days of desktop publishing, the size of your font collection was a badge of honor. Few people understood font licensing and even fewer cared. Some designers still have t-shirts emblazoned boldly with the words Whoever dies with the most fonts wins.

But in recent years, foundries have become very serious about enforcing terms of font licenses in court, with some of them winning settlements in the millions of dollars. The time is clearly over for having casual attitudes about font licensing.

So what does this mean for users and organizations with large collections of fonts with unknown license terms?

Graphical image of users checking the terms of their font licenses

It’s Time for a Self-Audit

To make sure you are complying with the licensing terms of the fonts in your collection, you must do some detective work. The first step in your investigation is to track down receipts or invoices for your font purchases. These documents often contain licensing information or pointers to places where you can read about those licenses.

Sometimes, you can find receipts in the folders you downloaded when you purchased the fonts. You can also find font receipts in your email by filtering messages for font receipt, font invoice or the names of font vendors you have used in the past.

Graphic of a page of descriptions for a font

What if I Don’t Have Receipts for Font Purchases?

Can’t find those old receipts? There are other clues that can lead you to discovering how your fonts are licensed. If you are certain you licensed the fonts, but have no record of the purchase, you can often find vendor names, foundry names and license information in the copyright, description and trademark fields of your font files.

Some of this information can be viewed by performing a Get Info command on your Mac or a File Properties command on your PC. Professional font managers such as FontAgent expose more metadata that can aid in your investigation.

Frequently, license information stored in the metadata of a font offers little assistance for what specific uses are allowable. In these situations, the best course of action is to check the font vendor’s website.

Am I in Trouble if I Have No Receipts?

Not necessarily. Odds are your collection is populated with open source fonts, and free-for-personal-use fonts that you can use without consequences. But if you are unsure how your fonts are licensed, using those fonts in any capacity can expose you to legal risk—just as if you were using a pirated copy of a desktop application. This is especially true if you use the fonts for commercial gain or you work for a large company with strict copyright-enforcement policies.

A Font Manager Helps Keep You in Compliance

As you proceed with your font-license audit, a professional font manager such as FontAgent® can help you organize your fonts according to usage. You can store open source fonts in one set and store fonts without restrictions in another. Place fonts with unknown licensing in a separate set or folder for later analysis.

Graphic depicting a FontAgent screen with blue boxes with the words Mac and Win in them

What’s the Best Way to License Fonts?

Do you see some fonts in your collection that aren’t properly licensed? Or do you want to add some new fonts to your library? You have many cost-effective ways to move forward in your quest for compliance.

Font foundries are very aware how confusing font licensing can be, so they tend to be very clear about proper usage and pricing.

  • Most vendors license fonts for desktop use at a specific price for one to five users
  • Fonts for use on mobile devices are usually available at a higher price
  • Fonts to be installed on web servers are priced by the number of page views for the website

Another licensing option is a font-collection subscription. Some vendors like Adobe and Monotype offer subscription access to font libraries. Just be sure that you can deploy those fonts in commercial projects and that they are not just for design use. Otherwise, the cost-effective font subscription you purchased can quickly become a financial and legal nightmare.

Cut Through the Confusion

There are few digital-rights topics as misunderstood as font licensing. Being aware of the complexities is your first step to bring your font collection into compliance. A self-audit is a simple exercise that can help avoid expensive legal action and preserving your reputation as a professional.

Part of an Organization with Compliance Concerns?

Are you part of an organization whose font library has grown over the years to a point where you have compliance concerns that span the organization? Insider can help you regain control and confidence in your font collection. And by using FontAgent Server, you can control the distribution and use of fonts to users across the organization to make sure you stay in compliance moving forward.