Sunday, December 5, 2010

Free and Legal Fonts

I quit my job a little under a year ago, one of my plans for my newly found free time was to finish and promote my iphone game at the time. As time went on I focused my effort on technical issues and getting just enough content to push the game out the door instead of focusing on style or art. I think this was largest contributing factor to my game not doing as well as I had hoped. So as I've been embarking on my new flash project, I have decided to put art first and everything else second.

One of the first things I focused on was finding fonts. Fonts go a long way to define your style and distinguish your application from others. At least that's what I'm guessing, I'm not a graphics designer, I just play one for free.

I started by ecstatically browsing to Blambot, a Font site I've heard mentioned on numerous comic book podcasts. "Finally!" I thought. "Justification for listening to comic book podcasts when I stopped collecting years ago!". My excitement was bolstered when I found that "Angry Birds" was using a Blambots font on it's top screen. I took a peak at the license for the font and was disappointed to see no mention of software distribution. So I shot an email off to the site and some time later I got the following response :

Available licenses:

COMMERCIAL LICENSE (For Free Fonts): The non-exclusive, perpetual, non-redistributive, commercial, 5-user license is $40.00 USD per font. (Commercial use would be defined as using the font in a logo, in print, etc.) There is a 25% discount if you license 3 or more commercial font licenses. Commercial licenses requiring more than 5-users can be arranged.

EMBEDDING LICENSE (For All Fonts): If you intend to embed the font in a software application, the non-exclusive embedding license fee is $300 per font. (Embedding is defined as inclusion as on-screen text in game software, flash applications, etc. where an end user can not access the fonts for their own usage.)

REDISTRIBUTIVE LICENSE (For All Fonts): If you intend to redistribute the font files, bundled with other software for access by a third party, the non-exclusive redistributive license fee is $500.00 USD per font. (Redistributive is defined as packaging the font software as part of a CD rom collection, etc.) Note, no Blambot pay font may be redistributed by a
ny means as stand-alone font files.

Kudos to Blambot for having the clearest written license text I've seen related to fonts, then and since. I'm guessing that $300 and $500 is pretty reasonable cost for a small company to cover in order to embed a nicely designed font in their application. Unfortunately I am not a small company, so I licked my wounds and moved on.

Next I tried MyFonts and Dafont. At every turn I was met with ambiguous license text. Emailing the providers didn't clear anything up for me, I usually just got a quote of the same license text that confused me. Both of these sites host and sell (donations in the case of dafonts) fonts that allow the owner to come up with their own license text. The text was almost always unclear about software distribution and exactly what embedding consisted of. I was left feeling uneasy about buying the fonts I needed and could afford.

At this point I became fed up with the idea of 'buying' a font. There was no security in it. If I was going to use font it was going to unambiguously free.

Next I came across openfontlibrary, a very nice looking site, with very useful and clear license. Unfortunately the fonts were not all that varied or useful. It's a site to keep you eye on, but currently their library needs some more content.

After one last round of searching I came across FontSquirrel. The text on the front page read "Only the best commercial-
use free fonts". Ah, beauty. They did have a great selection of free(ish) and commercial safe(ish) fonts. Each font still carries a hand written license, but most are pretty lenient and make it clear you can use the font for whatever your heart desires. So two thumbs up for font squirrel.

Hopefully a paysite can someday combine well written software embedding licenses and affordable fonts, but until then, fontsquirrel seems like the best alternative.

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