Typefaces, Logos and Open Font Licenses

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| February 14, 2008

Typefaces, Logos and Open Font Licenses

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You asked your legal, copyright, and trademark questions, and Jean has answered! All questions are culled from the comments section attached to the original ‘Ask Jean’ post. We invite you to ask more questions.

Dear Jean,

I occasionally do some freelance work, and I have some questions about typefaces and logos.

How much leeway do I have when using a typeface, such as Times or Arial from the Core Web Font set, in a logo? If I use one of those typefaces as a foundation but tweak the outlines, does that free me from liability? Was I even liable in the first place?

I’ve also been looking at fonts with a SIL Open Font License. These are often referred to as open-source fonts, but what if they’re used in a design? Can the resulting logo be trademarked or protected by a copyright? Does it make a difference if the logo contains only text, like the FedEx logo? What about if the logo also contains original artwork?

Thanks,
Kris

Dear Kris,

There are two questions here. The first is whether or not you can freely use typefaces in logos. The answer to that question is yes, and it’s true for both Core web fonts and fonts distributed under Open Font agreements. In fact, the creation of text or the tweaking of outlines is considered permissible use under almost any font license. The only thing you can’t do is alter the font and then resell it.

The second question is about the logo you create with the fonts and whether or not it can be protected by a copyright, a trademark or both. Again, the answer is yes. Any logo design that contains original artwork can be protected by a copyright. However, if your logo contains text only, it isn’t technically “original” according to the law, and thus it cannot be copyrighted. But a copyright is different than a trademark. All logos, be they text only or a combination of art and letters, can be trademarked by the client who has hired you to create the design.

Best,
Jean

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