Re: Font Website Usage Barriers and Monopoly

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Thu Jan 06 2011 - 20:58:10 CST

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    As an author you can decide to publish anything you create yourself.
    so you create texts, and page designs. But you still depend on works
    that you did not create yourself : font designs.

    There will be an issue as long as there will be no working system to
    allow authors transfering the fonts in a way that is both compatible
    to font authors rights, and your own publication rights. Today the
    only thing you can do is to use fonts that that be installed by anyone
    without restriction, i.e. using free fonts, and to incite all OS
    providers to support a usable set of these free fonts that can be
    referenced and used without restrictions (I do think that there should
    exist a common repository of free fonts that any OS could use in their
    installation or OS updates, even if each OS provider gives additional
    font designs with their own instalaltion packages).

    But for paid fonts, one solution would be a system that allows a font
    designer to still sell their fonts, with a licence allowing
    redistribution and use in documents made by authors that have
    effectively paid for the needed licence.

    What this means is that protected fonts should contain some
    authentication mechanism, allowing the distribution of documents with
    some metadata encoding an authorization key (for example on a specific
    domain or subdomain name for the web, or by inclusion of this metadata
    key along with an encrypted form of the font in documents like
    PDF/DejaVu/ODT/...). The authorization key would be used to perfom
    some key exchange request on a web server maintained by the font
    author (or by a service provider, like in PKI providers) to get the
    necessary decryption key, after asserting that the source domain is
    effectively owned by someone that has the appropriate limited
    distribution right for the font (i.e. the right to publish documents
    created and signed by themselves).

    It would really help if the PKI signature keys were not so expensive,
    or if all OS distributions contained the right to register a secure
    signature on the web, with which you would be able to create documents
    containing some necerssary licenced package like fonts (or other
    software tools and resources such as images). The need is not limited
    to fonts, but more generally on how to track licencing rights on the
    web (notably images, videos, music). Some infrastructure is still
    missing on the web to manage licences portfolios on the web : this
    will involve works by OS authors, collaboration with content creators
    and with ISPs (which could also provide secure signatures to authors).

    All web users are supposed to be authors sometime, and it's
    unbelievable that such need has still not been addressed, so that we
    not only have an identity on the web, but also the possibility to
    manage a portable portfolio of licences, usable independantly of the

    But the other part of the problem, specific to fonts, is that there's
    a real lack of software solutions that allow people to design the
    fonts they want for their documents (even if they are not as complete
    and perfect as professional fonts).

    We have now tons of SVG images, with lots of tools used to draw them,
    and still very few softwares that allow packaging a set of SVG glyphs
    into some workable font, because the existing tools are really too
    much complex to use. Yes the hinting process is really complex for
    most users, however for most users just creating documents, it should
    not be necessary to create complex fonts that will scale gracefully at
    all sizes, when their need is to create documents that will be
    readable at reasonnable sizes for display or printing.

    In the past we had basic font editors where people could design bitmap
    fonts easily. Those tools have mostly disappeared because we are too
    much used to a very small set of existing TrueType/OpenType fonts with
    high quality provided with OSes, but still lots of interoperability
    problems with them.

    For this reason, many authors just create PDF documents with a print
    driver to convert their texts, images, fonts, and designs into a
    precomputed layout where all glyphs are processed and styled. But for
    the web with dynamic contents, this would not work, so instead we've
    seen non interoperable solutions such as servers serving contents in
    some non-standard systems (like Flash and Silverlight) where the
    effective rendering is performed on the web server that just
    distributes prerendered images in those applications. We still need
    something for the more standard HTML/CSS, and for mails, IRC channels,

    For now, I think that some solution can be thought about : why don't
    font foundries transform their business of selling fonts that can be
    used in an unlimited number of documents, into a service where an
    author could request that their documents be prepared for use with a
    choice of font designs ? For such use, the cost would not be paid at
    the normal price of fonts, but could be much smaller and incremental,
    paid for each document. Once some threashold has been reached, the
    font would be offered for free to these authors. foundries would
    collect enough money from many more clients, and could continue to
    support more designs, more scripts, better hinting, and new formats,
    and could also place some of their oldest basic fonts into some free
    packages usable from any place by any user (even if those fonts retain
    their copyright).

    Let's not forget also that hinting is very complex and still needed
    today because displays still have a too limited resolution (but we see
    now the display resolution being increased significantly : 200 dpi
    displays are not so uncommon today, and most printers will print at
    200 dpi or more, where hinting is not so essential. In addition the
    color depth and alpha rendering is also improving, along with the
    capabilities of graphic processors, so that they can simulate 300 dpi
    resolution for text. At 300 dpi, font hinting gives very little
    improvement for the readability of documents at reasonnable sizes. So
    why isn't there an initiative to work on simpler font formats that can
    be designed by more people with less qualification ?

    Let's suppose that all OSes come now with a basic (and simple to use)
    TrueType font creator. Font foundries could now work for these font
    authors that will request their help to improve their visual quality
    (e.g. adding kerning information, completing the additional tables
    needed for interoperability, converting these fonts to other formats,
    adjusting the metrics for correct alignment, checking the completeness
    for some classes of languages or scripts, creating font derivatives
    such as bold and italic, and demonstrating it by a sample design
    document where users could see how much the design was improved by the
    professional foundries). There's lot of creativity on the world, but
    still lack of expertise for working on existing font formats.

    For now the commercial system used by foundries is still prehistoric
    (selling only to a few large corporations or medias) and not developed
    as a service as it should be now : they are just selling fonts that
    can only be used in limited contexts but not on the web (because they
    are not embeddable, not even in a limited way). And those foundries
    should cooperate to resell their own designs between each others so
    that creators could just buy usage rights from any one of them for a
    large choice of designs. This makes the fonts expensive for everyone,
    and gives little intereation and promotion of great document designs.
    It's legitimate for foudries to get paid for great fonts they create,
    but there's certainly better way to get more by extending their reach
    of customers at smaller prices and through alternate payment systems.

    There's also a lack of protocol standard for web browsers : when they
    restrict a CSS stylesheet by allowing a web font to be downloaded only
    from the same domain as the HTML document, it is limiting the sales
    and interoperability : my opinion is that web fonts should be hosted
    by foundries directly and referenced by web sites in theor own
    stylesheets. Web browsers shouls still be able to accept that web
    fonts come from a trustable source ; the browser would request the web
    font by first getting an authorization key from the document's source
    domain, then would use that key to download the font/glyphs from the
    foundry server that would check the credential presented and exposing
    the authorized document source.

    There are certainly lots of innovation to find there and to implement.
    For now all font formats are not portable and there's a severe lack of
    interoperability, usability and cooperation, in the way they are
    created and distributed today.

    2011/1/6 Krishna Birth <>:
    > For example, I am on a member participation website and I cannot use my
    > desired fonts on my computer as they are "non-transferable' / they cannot be
    > transferred easily and spontaneously. Suppose if a website has my desired
    > fonts to use via @font-face, I cannot use them 'real time' as it is one
    > direction e.g. I want to be able to use the font as I type. Thus there are
    > these barriers and monopoly. Something should have been done about this
    > years ago. Webmail should have it also. I should be able to upload my
    > desired fonts and type on the member participation websites. This feature is
    > important to have on text editors / text fields and should be implemented
    > immediately. Once this feature is used then if particular websites have a
    > policy about what fonts users can upload, they could state it.
    > -----
    > Best,
    > Meeकu

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