Everything you want to know about using fonts legally (but didn’t know to ask)

The right typeface can make a logo, graphic, or other design really sing.

However, for something we use every single day, most of us know little about the legal ramifications of using typefaces and fonts.

First, please know that I am not a lawyer and don’t even play one on TV.

Second, I will not be using the words “font” and “typeface” interchangeably.  Strictly speaking, a font is a computer file, software, or program that instructs your computer to display and print each letter, character, and so forth.

A typeface, on the other hand, is a set of letters, numbers, and often symbols that share a consistent design look.  Typefaces, strictly speaking, have nothing to do with computer use.

So, Times is a typeface first and foremost.  Its font complement allows Times to be used digitally.

Let’s talk about fonts first, because that’s where most of the issues are.

How can you use fonts you own?

Lots of people don’t have a clue that they aren’t allowed to use fonts — even the ones they purchase — for any use they can possibly dream up.

Savvy designers know otherwise.  We try to let our clients know what we know, because using typefaces and fonts can involve money and licensing issues.

Most of us are familiar with the fonts that come with our word processing software (e.g., Microsoft Word).  Fonts that come bundled with software (e.g., operating system and Microsoft Office) are usually licensed for use with that software.  So if you print out a book using Microsoft Word (although why would you?), you’re probably safe.

If you plan to create a .pdf of your Microsoft Word book so that you can upload it to CreateSpace, Lulu, or another print-on-demand vendor, you’re licensed to do so.

However, if you’re creating an e-book for, say, the Kindle, you can’t embed the Microsoft Word font you used to write your drafts.  You’ll need to license a font or consider using the fonts provided by the e-book manufacturer — ePUB, iBook, Kindle, and so forth.

The entire issue of digital publishing is a hot potato right now with the dramatic rise in self-publishing over the past decade or so.  Certainly there are serious font issues with the software that claims to convert .pdfs to e-books.

One silver lining is that a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud (about $50 a month for a one-user subscription) yields you several hundred fonts that are licensed for ePUBs.  With a million subscribers to date, the Creative Cloud’s font licensing includes print, online, and e-books.

Why buy a font?

If you’re not part of the Creative Cloud, you’ll need to consider purchasing a font or more at some point.

Purchasing a commercial font entitles you to specific font uses, often including commercial.  But each manufacturer’s font license is different.  You really do need to read the End User License Agreement (EULA) for each typeface you purchase.

Typically, a designer buys a font license for a specific project, such as a client’s brochure.  The license may restrict the use of the font.  It’s possible your designer can use it on as many projects as they like, but can’t send you the font for you to use in related projects.  Therefore, many designers include the price of the font in the design price if it needs to be specific to match your house identity, or style, guide.

Some typical licensing restrictions include the number of computers on which the font may be installed, whether the font may be uploaded to a server to use on a website, or whether it may be included in a mobile app package.

U.S. copyright law protects fonts, not typefaces

Copyright law in the United States, unlike in many other countries, doesn’t protect typefaces per se.  (Again, not a lawyer so this is not legal advice.)  However, scalable fonts may be protected as software and software programs.

When copyrighted, only the font software is protected, not the artistic design of the typeface.  In other words, only the software version (font) of a typeface is protected.

(This seems inconsistent with copyright law as it pertains to other creative works — life of the creator plus 75 years of protection before releasing the works into the public domain; this is an oversimplification, because there are cases in which copyright can be renewed. Be that as it may, it’s the law, so unless you’re a lawyer it’s all clear as mud.)

However, a designer can legally trace over a typeface (such as from a book or drawing) and use the resulting artwork as his or her original design.  OR she can scan each character of a typeface and rework it — without fear of retribution — as long as the original from which the designer worked was not a font.

What if you trace a typeface (not a font) that’s copyright-protected by another country?  Even though the United States is a party to the Bern Convention and other international agreements, the United States isn’t required to provide greater protection to works from other countries than it provides to works created in this country.

Do companies protect their logo designs?

Many companies protect their logo designs from infringement.  Some executions of type design (e.g., Coca-Cola’s) are copyrighted as a logo design.

Typeface designs can be patented but this is unusual.  And trademarks only protect a typeface’s name (e.g., Gill Sans), not its actual design.

Should you use free fonts?

Sure. If they work for you, use them. But note that each font comes with its own EULA.  Some free fonts allow unrestricted use, and others prohibit use of the font for certain commercial purposes, such as the creation of e-books or Facebook images.

Just make sure you know what you’re dealing with.

Also, free fonts may present conflicts (i.e., they just don’t work).  Some don’t have upper and lower case letters or a palette of symbols.  Others are corrupt or carry a Trojan virus.

Here are two reputable sources to get some font goodness.  The Google fonts are available for free and can be used commercially.  Also, Font Squirrel is a curated list of free fonts that come with a commercial license.

Should you give a font to your client?

Usually the answer is no.  If you plan to own the typeface used for a client’s project, for instance, you are able to give the client the final artwork (like a print-ready .pdf) but not the font itself.  If the client wants to be able to use the font you have selected, he or she will need to purchase a license.

How much do fonts cost?

Fonts may run anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars or more.  Fun Fact: In 2015 Odd Moxie spent about $500 on font licenses, and that was a light year!

In many cases, a single font may include just the regular type, not the bold and italic, heavy and light versions.  You may need to purchase half a dozen fonts to have a complete digital representation of the typeface. For example, Gotham—beloved by designers everywhere—can be purchased from Hoefler & Co in a package with all the various styles for about $300.  Check it out here: Gotham Typeface.


You may say, all of this information is well and good, but I’ll keep using fonts the way I always have — for any purpose, without regard to licensing.

Certainly fonts are one of the Internet’s most-abused pieces of software, easily copied and transferred.

However, we never know when and where a law will suddenly be enforced.  So you may want to stay on the right side of it.

Plus, it just makes you a good human.  Somewhere a designer sat at a desk and labored for months on perfecting that font.  Need a name?  Here’s a list of the 1500ish top font designers according to Linotype (a famous name in typeface history).  These people worked hard on fonts you love and they deserve to be compensated for their work!

Ultimately, if you feel at all stymied by font and typeface law, it might be a signal to find a great designer! Odd Moxie is our top choice — ever heard of this dynamic company?


Glossary of common licensing terms

  • EULA = End User License Agreement
  • OFL = Only Foreign License
  • GPL = General Purpose License
  • SIL = Single Instance License

Additional reading

What is a font license and do I need one? 

A brief summary of font licensing 

Where can I legally use my fonts?

The law on fonts and typefaces

Are MS Fonts Free to Use?

Your Brain on Logos

Logos.  We are bombarded by them on a minute-by-minute basis as we go about our day.  We see so many of them, in fact, that it’s easy to take them for granted and forget to appreciate how an effective logo can trigger an emotional and behavioral response in our brain.

Recent neuroscience studies have found the brain uses all sorts of shortcuts when it processes information.  The more it recognizes a symbol with which it is comfortable, such as the logo of a preferred brand, the quicker it makes a decision with less anxiety.  Additionally, the brain is reluctant to change, and finds it jarring and uncomfortable (as do we all) so abrupt or severe changes can trigger unpleasant feelings.

Oh, and this all happens in 400 milliseconds.  

That’s how long it takes for your brain to perceive the core elements of a logo, recognize it, and draw on your prior experiences with the brand.

Recognizable logos can actually trigger responses in the same part of the brain that controls relational emotions.  So, when seeing a Honda in front of you at a red light, you remember the time in college you and your friends tried to road trip cross-country in your mom’s beat up Honda.  Nostalgia, anger, amusement, car sickness, whatever your relationship with that Honda logo is, you experience all of that in 400 freakin’ milliseconds.

Taking into account all this information, it should come as no surprise that proper logo design elements are vital to solidifying a customer’s association with your brand.  To attest to that, a graphic designer at Printsome played with the colors on a number of well-known logos, and the results are unsettling . . .

Creepy, right?  There’s an article here over at Mental Floss with more examples.

Feels all wrong, doesn’t it? So, remember:,  logos, graphic designers, and your brand colors are important.  Make sure you get good ones and stick with them.

Note:  This is our last post from Joy. She's gone to see the world.


So Long Joy, and Thanks for all the Shots

So Joy, our Lead Camera Assistant and Chief Boss Wrangler has moved on from the Odd Moxie Mob.  She’ll be headed out into the world as a full time photojournalist for a news agency based out of Lincoln, Nebraska.

When your dream job comes knocking, you gotta answer the door.  Even if your current gig is all that and a bag of tacos.

Joy, we wish you the best of luck, safe travels, reliable luggage, and fast glass.  Enjoy your next adventure, and don’t forget to stop by the office for a drink when you’re in town.

P.S.  Joy if you lose inspiration, just remember this photo.

Hey, You're Doing LinkedIn Wrong.

So, we live in this simultaneously wonderful and dreadful time where, if you have any professional presence online at all, you can quickly make or break your career with one misstep. Everyone from recent college grads to seasoned professionals are now faced with the annoying reality that their online presence, particularly on LinkedIn, is, like, actually important.

You know that thing your mom told you over and over again about first impressions being important? She wasn’t kidding, they’re really important, and your photo on LinkedIn in your first impression to the WHOLE GROWNUP INTERNET. You never know who could run across your profile at some point, and what awesome opportunity you could be missing out on because you failed to impress with your profile photo.

So, here’s a few things to consider when choosing your profile picture…

 Don’t Be Super Exciting
Those photos in your really awesome bathing suit? Yeah, those don't belong on LinkedIn. Alcohol, drugs? I mean, obviously those should be nowhere in the vicinity of your profile photo, but some of you make weird life choices, so I'm just going to clarify that one.

Don't Be Super Boring
Yeah, that’s right, the counterpart to not being wayyyyy too exciting, don't be super forgettable either. Try to have a profile picture that has a little spark, a small window into your personality. Let’s just say “no” to the deer in the headlights headshot against a white background, am I right? JUST SAY NO.

Your Photo Should Probably Actually Look Like You
Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. That 15 year old photo isn't really an accurate representation of your current appearance, now is it? You definitely wouldn't want to meet a future employer or networking contact and have them not recognize you. Talk about awkward. Similarly, you want to avoid excessively photoshopped photos that no longer look like you. Which brings me to….

This is really mostly directed to the millennials out there, but no matter how long your arms are, we are not fooled.  We know that your profile photo is a selfie. It doesn't matter if you're wearing a suit and looking professional as sh*t, it’s still a selfie.

Professional Quality Is Good
Steer clear of a photo that’s “facebook quality” (AKA anything that looks like it was taken at a party with a cell phone.) Try to use a photo that was taken with a good quality camera, is well lit, and clear focus of the photo is your beautiful shining face.  When in doubt, you can always have a professional portrait taken.  I might just know some fantastic photographers in Hampton Roads...

Adhere to these guidelines and you might win at LinkedIn. Go forth and connect.

Photos That Matter: Finding Balance in a World of Digital Photography

Smart phones are here and they’re here to stay. And thank goodness for that, because they’re fantastic. However, the ease with which it is to document our lives with a handy dandy smart phone seems to be both a pro and a con. Photos of important life events and loved ones are undeniably important, but it’s easy to find yourself becoming a bit of a redundant photographer, documenting events that lack long term importance, or worse yet, failing to be present at an important life event (graduation, birthday) because you are so busy photographing it.

Ask any photographer, photographing an event and being present at an event are very different things. I’ve often shot basketball and football games where I have no idea what the score is, or who is winning, because photographers are grabbing moments, and observe the game from a completely different perspective than someone in the stands.

Why does this matter? Because more and more people seem to be getting in the habit of spending so much time photographing their vacation that they forget to be on vacation. And while this may be an asset if you’re trying to look like a badass on Instagram, your family may find it cumbersome, and according to Science! those who photograph events are less likely to recall them with the clarity as those who merely observe. It’s called the Photo-Taking Impairment Effect, and it’s totally a thing.

What’s the moral of the story? Put the camera down from time to time, duh. Because, let’s be real, you’re never going to want to look at the 500 pictures of random blurry animals you took at the zoo again. And for the important stuff? The birthdays, graduations, and maybe just your family hanging out together at home? Consider hiring a photographer. Because life is precious, and we should all aspire to be as present as possible. 

Creative Commons

Thinking about releasing your work under Creative Commons, but having trouble figuring out which license you should use?  There are two tools available to help you out.

The first is an online tool over at Creative Commons.

But honestly, I’ve found this flowchart (warning, it’s a PDF link) from Creative Commons Australia to be much handier.

What is Creative Commons? Well, it’s a non-profit organization that helps folks share and use creative works and knowledge through free legal tools.  While they are not an alternative to copyright, they do enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.

“Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of ‘all rights reserved’ to ‘some rights reserved.’”

Worth checking out if you’d like to share your work.


Let's Avoid Exclusive

I love networking.  I love making new friends and finding out what they do for fun, and yes, sometimes for money.

But I really don’t like networking groups.  Well, some networking groups.  There are a few in my area that I’m part of and are full of awesome, but there are others that don’t work for me.  You see, they want me to be their exclusive photographer/graphic designer/video productioness.

I have trouble with exclusive.

First, I’m not a one man team.  And second, I do not do all things perfectly.  I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t try, and I shouldn’t pretend that I can.  Instead, I know folks who do certain things perfectly, and I hire them for that job.

For example, say you want a Traditional Family Portrait.  Sure, I can do that, but I know someone in this town who can do it way better than I.  She’s been doing it for more than 20 years.  (Hi Helen, I love you!)

But, if you need a brochure made, or video for your website, Helen is not your lady.  Could she do it?  Sure, but it’s not what she does really well.

The face of the photography business is changing.  These days photographers help each other out.  We lend each other gear, assist with projects, sell each other’s talents to clients.  The days of “This is my turf, and you’re stealing business from me” are over.  That’s so old guard.

I am not old guard.

I believe that the more we work, the more the community will see our talents as invaluable and hire us for new projects.  Sally down the street got her photo professionally taken for her website, now Steve wants one, too.  Does it matter who they hired?  No.  What matters is now there’s MORE BUSINESS. More business for ALL OF US.

So, let’s avoid exclusive.  Let’s make friends instead.


Free Work

There’s a short (and older) but perfect piece over at DIY Photography by comedian Nathaniel Tapley, “Dear Electricity & Gas Providers…”  What would a comedian have to say in a photography blog?  

Let’s start here: DIY Photography is a great community of photographers, some of whom are established professionals, and others who are self-proclaimed amateurs (in the Old French sense of the word, “lover of.”)  There’s great work, great insights, and it occasionally even inspires me to whip out the power drill and hack myself a light.

One thread that repeats almost ad nauseum is the issue of “free work.”  We’ve all been asked to do it.  Whether it’s a family member or friend (“Hey, you’re good with this sort of thing!”), a young or new-to-the-industry idealist who needs to get a first project under her belt, or a charity that’s trying to scramble to keep its fundraising needs down.  They’ve all asked.

Here’s where Nathaniel comes in:

I’m writing to you because I’ve been given your name by a mutual friend / saw your stuff and really loved it. I’m currently looking for someone to heat and light my house, and was wondering if you’d be interested in doing it?
Unfortunately, there is no pay at this time, but it’s a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor as in the future I hope to be heating and lighting ever-bigger houses. It’s also a great chance to showcase your work to the sorts of demi-celebrities I spend much of my life with.

It’s not an uncommon problem, and it’s not limited to the photography profession.

I’m not saying free work is a bad thing.  I volunteer for charities, help out friends, and occasionally even find a way to support that idealist (mostly through advice).  But I don’t expect that this kind of work will lead to more exposure.  No one has ever said, “This is the most awesome newsletter in the history of newsletters, I wonder who designed it?”  I help because helping is good.  I help for the same reason people donate.  I help because I have something to offer that is hard to come by.


I can’t help everyone.  And I do have time that needs to be dedicated to my business.  Dedicated to turning a profit.  And there’s no shame in that.  So, the next time you’re thinking of asking someone to volunteer their time, think about what you’re really asking.  Think about how much of a financial and hourly investment this person is donating, and be gracious about it.  And don’t forget a thank you note.

Legacy Project

Back when I was a kid, the “hip” thing to do was invite people over for drinks and subject them to “pictures of my trip to X.”  Your poor innocent friends and neighbors would then spend the next hour trapped in your living room with gin and tonics clutched in their hands while you narrated the 29th slide of someone kissing the Blarney Stone.  “And here’s Tony, he’s Steve’s second cousin removed...or is that twice removed?  And here’s Tony’s second wife...”

Fast-forward 30 years and I now have HEAPS and PILES of my family’s slides.  And I’m a third generation shutterbug.

What’s a person to do with all these slides?  Get them on the internet!

Introducing the Legacy Project.  I am digitizing and restoring all of my family’s slides starting with my maternal grandparents.  (It’s slow going, cobbler’s kids and shoes and all that.)  I’m putting them up on the ‘net in an archive so family members can comment, decipher the cryptic and faded script scratched on the back, and reminisce.  Added bonus—they can order prints or canvases or DVDs of anything that catches their eye.  No one wants 32 slides of the Blarney Stone, but that really great shot of the grandparents snuggling, that one we all want.

So what about you?  Do you have HEAPS and PILES of slides, prints, or film, and you don’t know what to do with it?  Would you want to try a Legacy Project of your own?  I’m happy to talk to you about where to get started, or if you’d rather, I can do it for you.  (You like how I put that soft pitch in there?)  

We’ll start with your images: slides, film, paintings, whatever you’ve got, and then we’ll talk about what you want when the project is finished.  Some families make books, journals of the best images with anecdotes and stories to go with them.  Some want DVDs they can peruse at their leisure.  Some want large prints, some want small prints.  The glory of a Legacy Project is that the memories are available to everyone, and they can have them in the way that most makes sense to them. While one relative might not have space for 16x20s of the whole family and would prefer a photobook they can keep on the shelf, someone else might say, “Bring it on!” to four 16x20s.  Each family, and family member, is unique—but everyone should have access to the memories.


Meet Joy

Joy Hill is the newest capo in Odd Moxie mob.  Joy is our Lead Camera Assistant and Boss Wrangler.  We’re super excited to have her on board!

In her own words:

Joy Hill is a recent college graduate/survivor of the University of Tennessee, where she studied Engrish and worked as a photographer for her school paper. Joy Hill is a pretty cool chick, in fact, one time she actually saved a school bus of orphans with nothing but a paper clip and a piece of gum, but she doesn't like to talk about that. Some have described Joy as the most interesting person in the world, but these days Joy just refers to herself as the new boss wrangler at Odd Moxie.

I think she’s a perfect fit, don’t you!

New Design Projects This Week

Two recent projects came in from the printers this week.  Check ‘em out and tell me what you think!

The first is a card for Stephen Christoff.  He’s a local musician with an eclectic style.  (He has been known to whip out the musical saw while on stage.)  He needed something that reflected his personality and that of his music.

The second is a folding rack card for Williamsburg Faith in Action, a local non-profit group that assists folks who are elderly, disabled, or on long- term care programs.  This was designed as a leave- behind for their new Volunteer Resource Program.  

We’ve got more projects in the hopper, including some timelapse pieces, a few fun projects, and possibly a photo shoot or two.  It should be an exciting month.

Stock Photography vs. Custom Shoots

Lately there's been a bunch of this on the web, “Budgets aren’t there for custom shoots.” and “Clients have a hard time paying for something they think they can pull off with their iPhone.”

I disagree.

There was a moment at the dawn of desktop publishing where print folks gnashed their teeth over the flyers and brochures that people were churning out of Word, or worse, Print Shop.  These homemade posters with fall leaf borders and clipart were showing up in boardrooms all over the world.  And then one day they weren't.

What happened?

Everyone realized that they looked amateur.  They looked like you churned this piece out on Thursday afternoon and ran it on your inkjet.  Which is what you did.  Desktop publishing found it’s place, and it’s a good one, but it didn’t replace a well skilled designer.

The same with photography (and video).  The commoditization has increased access, but I don’t believe it’s reduced the perceived value of really great work.  Just like Word docs, a snapshot with your phone has a place, a great, and even possibly publicly viewed place.  I’ve seen dynamic social media campaigns built around these snapshots.  But, snapshots do not replace custom shoots.

Stock photography is the bridge between these two types of images.  Stock gives you the ability to do more design work because fantastic images can be had for a fraction of the cost of a custom shoot.  Stock allows clients to fund larger campaigns that would be inaccessible otherwise.  Stock = Accessibility

We use stock photography in our work.  We also do custom shoots (you’ll not find a great portrait of your CEO in a stock site, or if you do you need to have a conversation) and custom illustrations.  There are places for each, and in the end these are just more tools available for great design work.

A Video for You

Odd Moxie Studios & Design has partnered with Basecamp Productions and Helen’s Place to bring affordable video to Williamsburg.

Many of the small businesses we’ve worked with in town have said the same thing, “I’d love to have some video, but I’m just not sure we can stretch our marketing budget that far.”

We love video. We want everyone to have video. But, we want everyone to have good video. So we’ve set up a co-op. We book the guys, rent the equipment, and work the magic. All you have to do is come at your time.

By taking an entire day of production and cutting it into 6 slots, our clients get to pay less than 1/6th of what they would for a full day of shooting. That’s a rate that works with anyone’s marketing budget.

We’ve set the first date, 10/28, and there are only 5 slots available.

Your business needs video. Now is your moment to get it.

One Last Shot

The cameras are about to be put away when you hear the dreaded, “One last shot, guys.”  It’s the end of a long day.  Everyone is tired and just wants to go home.  But, “one last shot.”

Or you’re out and something happens.  Something worth capturing.  Something that needs to be filmed.  Something that needs to be remembered.  But dragging the gear out seems like a lot of work in that moment.  Do you leave your camera in the trunk?

Everyone has these moments.  You know you should do X but you are tired, or you have ice cream melting in the trunk, or the team is pushing you to be done so they can catch dinner, or you’d rather be hitting up Facebook, or, or, or.

In these moments, dig deep.  Get the camera out.  Get the shot.  Life/dinner/ice cream will wait for three minutes.  Because when you get the camera out, this can happen:

In Film, Light Matters

In photography and video, light matters.  When we say we know all the good tricks, we mean it.  The way the light and shadows appear on a person’s face can dramatically change their appearance.

Director Nacho Guzman released this fantastic teaser for a music video he’s just finished that very succinctly demonstrates how light can change features.  It’s fascinating to watch, and something to keep in mind the next time you’re behind the camera.

via io9.com (click here)  There are some great animated GIFs here, too, that are worth checking out.

I don't think I'm a jerk.

Awhile back over at Fast Company, Jennifer Miller wrote a quick synopsis about a study from BI Norwegian Business School.  It seems that Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen has tried to determine the markers of a “creative” personality.  He divided 481 subjects into three groups and asked them 200 questions.  One group was the “baseline,” which consisted of people like lecturers or managers; the other two groups were folks generally considered to be “creative.”  Mainly (I gather) students of advertising and performing artists.

Professor Martinsen says he’s found meaningful differences between creatives and non-creatives and has distilled the data down to seven elements.

You can read more about it here: “How to tell if you’re creative (hint: you might be a bit of a jerk)”.

One of my personal mantras is, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  So just because some or all of these elements can apply to you does not mean that you are not creative, or that you’re not a jerk.  But it is an interesting line of study, and it reminds me (at least in the immediate moment) that I should try hard to be nice as often as I can.