Font Licensing

What license should fonts submitted to this project be governed under?

Any free software license will be accepted, but please consider relicensing to the Open Font License or Sharing Agreement


To license fonts under the OFL, we suggest reading its FAQ and following the instructions. The same goes for the Sharing Agreement

Since March 2007, FontForge has a feature to help include the license in the font file itself. Go to the Element menu, select Font Info, then TTF Names, and click the OFL button. Then edit the license header with your details.

To submit fonts to this site, sign up forOpen F an account and follow the instructions, or configure FontForge appropriately.

The Different Kinds of Free Fonts

If you are unsure what a Free Font is, please refer to the Free Fonts page.

The main way Free Fonts vary is if they are copyleft or not.

Copyleft is a clever kind of copyright license that restricts you from creating non-free versions of free things. and

Free Fonts with a copyleft license must remain Free. If they are combined with another font, the whole combination must be under the copyleft license. A font licensed under the OFL is such a font.

Free Fonts without a copyleft license can be changed and released as non-free fonts. This are often said to be public domain fonts

What specific licenses are suitable for Free Fonts?

Public Domain

I want to use Public Domain instead of the OFL explains why the "Revised BSD" and "MIT/X11" licenses are suitable. The X11 license is the most suitable as it is the simplest.

What is the Public Domain?

There are two kinds of public domain.

One is the expired public domain, which is works that are made before 20thC copyright law came in, or have expired their natural term of copyright of death of author + 70 years. This is legitimate. For example "Artworks. In short: Consider only those works whose author has died more than 70 years ago to be in the public domain."

The other is the dedicated public domain, which is the idea of say CC-PD where you the copyright holder 'dedicate' your work to the public domain. This appears illegitimate, but widespread.

In the USA this is generally thought to be possible, but according to Rick Moen this has not actually been tested in a USA court. Therefore its not as solid as the existence (social proof) of a CC-PD deed makes out or anecdotal evidence like the AT&T suid patent (in the USA) allegedly being "dedicated to the public domain".

Internationally there are also big problems, because most countries do not have a positive conception of the public domain in the first place - only works with expired copyright terms, or works that cannot be copyrighted for various reasons, and for example Government work in the UK is covered by "Crown Copyright" not public domain like in the USA.

Are there any Free Fonts in the public domain?

This is, shall we say, contentious.

There are fonts floating around the Internet that are dedicated to the public domain, and has good search engine ranking for "public domain" fonts and is a good example of such fonts.

However, the law does not operate in the way normal people expect, which is why lawyers train for years to truly understand the way the law works. It does not follow the common sense expectations of the man on the street.

Dedicating a work to the public domain before its copyright term has expired may seem like common sense. But it has no legal basis according to Rick Moen because it has not actually been tested in a USA court.

Given that, and since it is impossible for any digital fonts to have expired copyright terms, there are no public domain fonts.

For this and other reasons, fonts included in the Font Library must be relicensed under the Open Font License.

Are all fonts in the Public Domain?

A quirk in USA copyright law - which is not shared in other countries, like european ones - that typeface designs are not copyrightable. This is because the alphabet was considered an inalienable part of the public domain when the legislation was drafted all those years ago. This used to be a problem/boon for established/new type foundries, until a court ruled that with digital manifestations of typeface designs - fonts - were subject to copyright. So if you redraw the digital outlines of a typeface design from scratch, in the USA, you are legally cool - though bound to be unpopular with established type foundries.

There's another potentially interesting quirk in USA copyright law, here the works created by the USA Government are also considered inalienable parts of the public domain. Therefore, there is a theoretical possibility that a font authored by the state, say one used for public road signs, would be public domain. Public-Private partnership means this is not the case, alas.

Common sense vs Legalism

It is said that if you want seven different opinions, ask four economists.

The same principle applies to discussions of free and open source licenses. A common sense approach says that licenses are chosen just as much, or more, to indicate community and intentions, as to what lawyers would say about them.

Public domain release, for the most part, indicates a lack of caring about what happens to the font (or whatever) after it's released. Further, there is no cohesive Public Domain community. That's every bit as important a reason to dislike the Public Domain as questions about the legal status.

The single best thing in favor of the Open Font License is that the community forming around it cares deeply about type, about quality, and has a special emphasis on global availability. The existing body of OFL fonts are generally of premium quality, or nearly so.

A very specific reason to unify on a single license is to allow free cut and pasting between fonts, especially for stuff like accents and special characters. If there is a good library of such things available, that should help people get a head start on creating a font with full glyph coverage, as well as help expand fonts quickly into even more ranges, such as Vietnamese.


The GNU Project General Public License (GPL) is widely considered the best Free Software license, used by 70% or more of Free Software projects But the GPL is problematic for fonts because if a GPL font is embedded in a document, that document must be wholly licensed under the GPL.

To mitigate this, the Free Software Foundation has written an experimental font exception for the GPL

Despite the problems, the base 35 PostScript fonts donated by URW++ to (originally) the Ghostscript project are licensed under the GPL, with an exception similar to the font above.


The SIL Open Font License (OFL) is the premier license for Free Fonts. Read the OFL-FAQ for details and examples of the working model of the license.


The TeX-related Gyre Project fonts are licensed under the GUST Font License (GFL), which is a free license, legally equivalent to the LaTeX Project Public License (LPPL), version 1.3c or later.

Generally, a licensed used for Free Software can be used for Free Fonts. The GNU Project maintains a list of licenses that can be used for Free Software. Be aware that not using a free license specifically designed for fonts and collaborative fonts design may create problems: the logic and wording may feel a alien to designers, create unexpected scenarios and you may find it hard to satisfy the requirements.

Protecting Font Freedom

"I want to release a font under the Open Font License, but am not interested in protecting it against people who would break the license terms. What can I do?"

If you develop a font using only Free Software, like FontForge, and wish to license it under the SIL Open Font License, you can reassign the copyright to some other person or organisation. They will then look out for people breaking the terms of the license, and take up the issue on your behalf.

The Free Software Foundation is one such organisation. If you are aware of any others, please add them here.

To assign the font to the FSF, you will need to submit it to The GNU Project as a new GNU package. (Becoming a GNU package does not require assignment to the FSF, though this is commonly mistaken to be the case. Many GNU packages remain copyrighted by the authors - and then they are responsible for enforcing the licenses)

When you assign your font to the FSF, the assignment contract will say, as all FSF assignments do, that the FSF promises always to release the work under a free license having defined properties specifically described. If the OFL, which the FSF thinks is free but which they don't warrant to be safe and effective, ever fails or seems likely to fail to protect freedom, they would then shift to another free font license - just as they would do with program code. Of course they would discuss this with the developers and authors if it ever actually happened, and to date (we believe) it has never happened for any GNU package.

Having said all that, what becoming a GNU package means for fonts is not exactly defined - it's never come up, as no fonts have been contributed to the GNU Project. Maybe yours will be the first? See the GNU Software Evaluation information and form.

External Links

Font FAQ "Are fonts copyrightable?"
TUG Font Legalities
Some interesting UK-related Public Domain links
"What is a font?" is answered nicely in and could probably go in here sometime....