Can I sell an artwork that uses letters from an existing font, e.g. from a word processing program?

There are two key legal issues to consider here: whether the work will infringe copyright and the terms of the licence under which fonts are used. The position will vary according to which font is used.

Copyright

This is a complex issue as not all countries recognise typefaces as a copyright work.

In English law, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the ‘Act’), fonts / typefaces are regarded as artistic works and protected by copyright.  It is not an infringement of copyright to use a typeface in the

 ‘ordinary course of typing, composing text, typesetting or printing.’

The Act does not go beyond this to consider whether this would extend to the use of fonts in digital art or other artworks.  However, the general practice among professional graphic designers producing logos is to treat typefaces as copyright works and to obtain licences.

In the US, fonts are not considered to be protected as copyright works.

By international convention, whether or not the particular font is capable of copyright protection will depend on where it was first published, as that governs which laws will apply.

The artist needs to check which font he/she has used and where it was first published.  If it is protected by copyright, then the safest way forward is to obtain a copyright licence from the copyright owner.

Licence Terms

In addition, the use of the font will be restricted by the licence terms and whether or not commercial use is allowed. The licence terms apply regardless of the copyright position.  For example, details for Microsoft fonts can be found online: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/fonts/family.aspx

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.