Perhaps you’re in the process of creating a brand for your first business, and you want a font to put on marketing materials- a font that will distinguish your business from your competitors. Something that is all your own. You go onto a font website and find a font that speaks to the personality of your brand and the type of consumer you want to attract, and download it for free. Before you use the font, it is critical to determine what licensing is associated with the font.
You can get sued for using a font you didn’t pay for if the way you use it violates the font licensing. Just because a font is free does not mean you can use it in whatever way you want. You can only use it according to its licensing.
Consider using a graphic design software with all copyright-free graphics and fonts, like Placeit.net, to be sure you are creating a design that is 100% copyright-free.
If you’ve found a font you’ve fallen in love with or have already downloaded a font you love, make sure you find out if it is copyrighted. If so, find out precisely what kind of licensing is on the font to ensure you will not be violating copyright law. There are several ways to accomplish this if you don’t know how.
When creating a design for a T-shirt, business card, or other promotional material for your brand, there are several elements to consider, including color scheme, graphics, and font. Once you’ve worked hard putting together the look of your design, the last thing you want to deal with is having to start over again or worse: being sued for misusing a font you didn’t purchase.
In order to avoid any possible litigation, here are a few ways to ensure you have rights of use:
- Find the copyright
- Find the license type
- Make a purchase
Let’s go over each of these steps to better understand how to avoid legal entanglements when using free fonts.
1. Find the Copyright
Once you have found the font you want to use and are about to download it or have already done so, make sure that you find out if the font is copyrighted. Unfortunately, not every website that pulls up on your Google search engine is trustworthy. There are several lesser-known font websites that illegally upload fonts without regard for their copyright. Make sure the site you’re using to find your font is legitimate.
There are several ways you can find the copyright of a font. The simplest is to look at the download .zip folder of the font and find the text document with the licensing information. Typically, these text documents will appear as license.txt or readme.txt. Another hassle-free way is to look on the website where you got the font. There should be information on the usage rights on the page where you downloaded the font.
As a last resort, you can always do an image search online by simply uploading the font and allowing the website to check the image against its database for a match. If you do this, be sure that the font is in black text with a plain white background and no other detail on the image. You can also do a Google search of the name of the font, but this comes with its own risks; as stated before, there are many fraudulent websites with copyright fonts that are being touted as free.
2. Find the License Type
Once you know if an image is copyrighted, it’s critical to know what type of licensing it has and how that pertains to your use of the font. There are three license types: for personal use, for personal and commercial use, and requires purchase. The safest bet for licensing is selecting a font that allows for commercial use.
If you come across a font that is free for personal use, then you cannot use it commercially, which means that it can’t be on any products, marketing materials, business promotions, etc. The danger here is you can create a fun design that you share strictly among friends that ends up on a T-shirt or some other product, and it crosses that line. Once that line has been crossed, you are in violation of copyright, and you run the risk of being sued.
Don’t be fooled by a font because it says it’s free. Many free fonts on the internet have restrictions on their use, and if you don’t educate yourself, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands.
3. Make a Purchase
Some licenses require that you make a purchase from the copyright holder to use the font. Each copyright holder will have different stipulations on how the font can be used once it has been purchased. Make sure you know those details, as the purchase may only be for single-use.
Again, just because a font is free to download for personal use does not mean you can use it commercially. In some cases, you can purchase the rights to use it commercially, and in others, that may not be an option. It’s critical to know all the facts about the licensing to avoid any legal consequences.
If you want to take the guesswork out of this whole process, you can always use a website like Placeit.net that allows you to design your logos, graphics, and products using their copyright-free design elements, including fonts. That way, you have peace of mind that doesn’t involve hunting down information.
Whether free or purchased, fonts have licensing or terms on which they can be used. Know the licensing information so you can use the front properly and avoid a lawsuit for copyright infringement or unlicensed use.
If you are not able to locate the copyright or licensing information for a font, then the best practice is to let it go and find something else to use instead. Don’t take the risk and end up getting served with lawsuit papers.