Mechanically produced fonts and the characters comprising fonts are protected under UK law as typefaces. The legal definition for typefaces incorporates letters, numerals and ornamental motifs. Fonts and typefaces created for PCs, Apple computers and Linux systems however are protected are artistic works.
Electronically Created Typefaces
What is not made clear in the Act, but follows from basic principles of copyright is that electronically created fonts are protected by copyright, provided they are original. The protection is an indirect means of protecting the individual characters.
Fonts are delivered in TrueType font, OpenFonts or PostScript formats. Each of these font formats are delivered as electronic files for installation on a Windows, Apple or Linux operating systems. These files qualify as literary works for the purposes of Part I of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 UK. Reproductions of these files must exist on the computer in order to be used as part of an application, such as InDesign, OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. The existence of these files on a PC in themselves are infringements, as the file has been copied in its entirety and is reproduced on the computer. Other qualifying criterion for copyright protection must be proved such as originality, (which is a low threshold test for protection under copyright law) in order to be successful in a claim for copyright infringement.
Industrially Produced Typefaces
Although there is an international convention governing the law applying to typefaces, it is not designed to protect the most pervasive forms of typefaces: electronic fonts. The Vienna Agreement for the Protection of Type Faces and their International Deposit, 12 June 1973 is designed to protect typefaces produced in industry by a mechanical process. UK law allows for the registration of these typefaces as designs, however registered designs law as it applies to the online industry is in our view largely ineffective.
Designs law in the UK is designed to protect industrially prepared typefaces for use in a manufacturing process. Individual characters forming part of a typeface are protected as graphic works, sculpture or engravings.
Where letters, numerals and special characters in a font begin their life as drawings, the drawings of each character are protected individually by copyright as artistic works. In extreme cases, characters may be considered works of artistic craftsmanship, however in most cases the typeface need not be characterised as a work of artistic craftsmanship for intellectual property protection in the UK.
Protection as Registered Designs
Protection by registration is required for each character, and the characters must be made and sold separately. Given the industry practice and commercial realities in the vast majority of instances, protection will not economically worthwhile. A single design registration in the UK alone attracts a fee from the Designs Registry of the Patent Office of £60 per registration.
End users and intermediate users of mechanical typefaces such as printers and graphic designers are not liable for copyright infringement of a design where they use the typeface in the ordinary course of their business, namely typing, composing text, typesetting and printing. The policy behind this rationale is that courts would become overburdened by legal proceedings by the thousands of parties they may be joined to commercial litigation. Instead, relief is designed to sought from manufacturers and resellers of typefaces. This focuses on those dealing with the infringing material.
Companies that deal with articles that make, import or deal with products or services specifically designed to produce a typeface protected by copyright are susceptible to a claim for what is known as secondary infringement of copyright, and orders to deliver up offending products. In extreme cases, dealing with typefaces unlawfully may be a criminal offence.
Protection for typefaces as artistic works under English copyright law lasts for 25 years from the end of the year which they are first marketed.