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how to follow up on copyrights/patents

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Thus far, I've avoided using any art assets in my game design but my own original work, but I'm to the point where I need fonts besides default arial. However, I have no idea on how to actually follow up on whether or not something is copyrighted/patented or not.

 

I've done a lot of reading on the topic, but it has done little except confuse me. From what I've read about fonts, you cannot copyright a font in the USA. You can patient a program, so a ttf can be patented.

 

My big problem comes in with sites like dafont.com, which has 1000s of fonts. Some are free for any use, some require between 10-1000 dollars for commercial use. However, anyone can upload to the site, which means I could go download a patented font, upload it to dafont.com, and ask $10 dollars for it. The site itself of course, offers no legal guarantees. 

 

The next confusing thing is European copyrights/patients. From what i know of their laws, copyright is granted upon creation and no registration is required. What are you suppose to do? Ask around to see if anyone knows the guy that made it? Get a photo of him with a newspaper and his font on the computer screen? As well, I don't know if fonts can be copyrighted or require program patients in the EU or what.

 

So back to my original question. Is there any way to know who actually made a work and get some kind of guarantee that the price you paid for a commercial license was really for a legally guaranteed license that is safe to use in the US, Commonwealth countries, and EU?

 

 

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Possibly answering the wrong question here. The lawyers where I used to work told me as long as my game is not providing a font in a usable format (in other words: a user of my game can't extract a usable font from my game), I can use a font without having to worry about buying a license. All you're displaying is text - you're not providing a font.

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Every creative work is covered by copyright, automatically, upon creation of the work.

 

If you want to use someone else's work, you need their permission. Usually this comes in the form of a license. If you receive a creative work from somewhere without also receiving a license stating under what conditions you're allowed to use it, then the safest thing to do is to not use it.

 

If you've received a creative work and a license to use it, but you're not sure if it's come from the original author or from a scammer, then it's up to you to weigh up the risks.

If you specifically think that DaFont might be host to a scammer, then search for the font on other sites and see if they have the same author and license conditions.

 

Patents are used to protect ideas, not actual works. These usually don't have much impact on game development (as "game rules" cannot be copyrighted or patented). In the font world, some fonts are protected by a "design patent", which is a specific kind of patent that is meant to prevent other font authors from creating similar fonts. So that's not a concern for you as a font-user.

Edited by Hodgman

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My understanding of fonts is the same as Tom's -- using the font is covered in whatever you paid (or agreed to) in order to get hold of it in a form where you could use it to start with. The licence covers the file you load into your editor, not the image of the letters in a given size/colour.

 

It's the only way it could work really -- after all the original use of fonts is to make a document you print out and give to someone else...

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" I could go download a patented font, upload it to dafont.com, and ask $10 dollars for it. "

 

Well yes, that's one of the problems. People spend ages chasing down infringers like that. And yes, you could theoretically download a font in which someone else has an interest. And yes, they could well wander up to you in a couple of years time and ask for a share of your profits after demonstrating that they're the true owner of the font and hence you used it without a licence...

 

This is an important lesson -- don't use sites like that. Use sources you can TRUST.

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This is an important lesson -- don't use sites like that. Use sources you can TRUST.

 

This is why I haven't used sites like that. However, what sites do you really trust? Even sites that offer legal protections in their disclaimers only offer X amount of coverage, and you'll likely have to fight them in court to claim that reimbursement - while you're being sued by someone. Saying use sources you trust is the same as saying "trust no one" because you won't know until you find yourself in a situation to prove or disprove their trustworthiness.

 

 

 

Every creative work is covered by copyright, automatically, upon creation of the work.

 

Patents are used to protect ideas, not actual works. 

 

Every creative work is by word-of-law copyrighted in the US, however, if you draw a picture and i steal it and register it's copyrights in the US before you, it's almost a 100% certainty that i will win any legal dispute. It's your word vs a public office with dates that can be confirmed.

 

In the context of fonts - you can't copyright fonts in the US, but you can patient programs - so the .ttf file is patented. I could copy every frame pixel by pixel and make my own .ttf to skirt the law, technically.

 

 

 

Tom Sloper: thanks for passing that along. It makes sense. After compilation, it would be nearly impossible to pull out the .ttf without decompiling the program, which is technically illegal.  I think i'll operate on this assumption until I get ready for a public release, at which point I'll ask a lawyer about it to be sure. I'll have to deal with a lawyer at some point anyway.

 

So the places that are selling fonts - is the only reason to pay for it if it's going to be useable as a .ttf in a program such as photoshop, rather than imbedded?

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In the context of fonts - you can't copyright fonts in the US, but you can patient programs - so the .ttf file is patented. I could copy every frame pixel by pixel and make my own .ttf to skirt the law, technically.

No, that's a bit off.
You can't copyright the design/idea behind a font - e.g. that the letters have pointy ends, or that the left vertical line in 'H' is at 15 degrees, etc.
So yes, that means font authors can steal each others ideas freely.
However, that's where patents come in. A font author can apply for a "design patent" to protect their ideas -- then if another font author makes a font with pointy ends and 15 degree 'H' lines, then the patent holder can take them to court over patent infringement.

So far none of that applies to you as a font user.
The US recognizes digital font files (TTF, OTF, etc) to be a form of computer software, which (as a creative work) is automatically protected under copyright (not patent law). Even if you don't register the copyright officially, it's still protected (and up to a court to argue over the details - and no, first to file a registration doesn't automatically win). Most copyrighted works are not registered officially.

So that means if you want to distribute the TTF file, you're not allowed to do so without the author's permission.

I've seen many TTF files that come with a license stating that you can't even redistribute the images that you produce using the fonts.
Tom's lawyers have said that you should be able to, but in this case, you'd be breaching a contract with a supplier, which is just asking for a lawsuit. Tom's lawyers think they could win that lawsuit, but it's up to you to weigh up the risks.

 

It makes sense that you would be able to defend this lawsuit -- your pictures are copies of the "shapes" (e.g. it's an 'H' with a 15 degree slant) which is not covered by copyright, and you're not actually creating a competing font so you might not be infringing the patent either. However, it still costs you a lot of money to go to court and defend yourself!

The safest option it to make sure you have permission to redistribute images created using the font (or at least aren't explicitly forbidden from doing so by the license text). That way you knoe you don't have to worry about pissing people off.

Edited by Hodgman

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Tom's lawyers think they could win that lawsuit, but it's up to you to weigh up the risks.


And FWIW, that advice was from a lawyer who was employed full-time by a triple-A publisher at the time.
If you have shallow pockets, know your comfort level with risk. Edited by Tom Sloper

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how to follow up on copyrights/patents
 

(in general, not fonts)

 

a) copyrights / marks:

Generally, every work is copyrighted although the rules about who owns the copyright and whether it can be sold differ from country to country.

Use only the ones that say you may use them for free, or well... buy a license.

 

For "words" or symbols use Google. If you can't find a word in combination with either TM or (c), it's probably not copyrighted (I'd say 99.9% certain, but Hodgman suggests that may not be true), and if your symbol doesn't come up in "similar images", it's not taken either (~80% certain). Copyright and Trade Mark are of course entirely different things, but practically speaking, from your point of view, it's the same stuff. You will be in trouble if you use one or the other without permission.

 

b) patents

Don't do anything. Avoid "obvious" trouble patents, but do not search otherwise. Pretty much everything is patented whether the patent makes sense (or is even thermodynamically possible!) or not, somewhere in the world. Notably in the USA.

Whenever you do anything but breathe (I hope nobody has a patent on that yet!) you have in principle a more or less small (or great) risk of being sued. There's nothing to do about that.

 

However: If it can be shown (or if you are stupid enough to admit) that you knew you were violating a patent, the penalties are a lot higher in several jurisdictions. Don't be more stupid than you have to be.

 

 

 

need fonts besides default arial

Well, download them from Font Squirrel, the fonts there have verified, clear, understandable free ( = no charge) licenses.

 

Or use a bitmap font, which to my knowledge is in principle (do note the next paragraph) free game anywhere in the world, even if it was generated from a copyrighted TTF.

 

Note that the symbols that are contained in a font (regardless of the font itself) may be trademarked. So, for example, while the Coca Cola font that you can download from <insert name of font site> may be 100% free, you are certain to get in trouble with Coca Cola Inc. if you use that font without their permission.

Edited by samoth

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