Bruno Maag on font piracy

Computer Arts asked me to write about font management for an upcoming issue, and I spoke not just to the companies that develop font management tools and to the agencies that use them (or don’t!) but also to type foundries to get their take on font piracy. As always, I got far more good stuff than I could fit in the feature, so much of the raw interview stuff will go up on Creative Bloq soon. But (with Computer Arts’ permission) I wanted to publish my favourite one here; this is Bruno Maag, the Swiss typographer who is chairman of Dalton Maag, and I think he says smart, pragmatic things that deserve to be heard.

(An aside before we go on: it always strikes me that the Qs in a Q&A often come across as anodyne and facile, as is indeed the case here, but – as is the case here – they can prompt thoughtful insights. The below is unedited, save for some light grammatical and typographic clean-up.)

What’s your attitude to font piracy?

The cost of pursuing commercial piracy is immense, with no guarantee of success or return, but where we know of unlicensed use of Dalton Maag fonts, we must enforce our licence terms and pursue appropriate compensation.

However, we deal with casual piracy at source, through education and explanation, by building business models which understand real-world needs, and by trying to avoid the known causes of casual piracy: geographic restrictions, differential pricing, opaque terms, uncertain suitability, inaccessible products, and so on.

Do tools such as Extensis’ Universal Type Server actually help – specifically independent foundries? Do you support initiatives such as Typekit?

I find that IT departments are always concerned about legal compliance for any software used in their organisation. Font management tools clearly simplify their task and give them control of what fonts are used in their organisation. It can be good for the font developer because it means that there is no ambiguity with corporate licences, but can lock out unapproved but legal fonts from being used.

Typekit and other fonts-as-a-service providers do open up new markets and do take our fonts to more desktops than before. It is a new model for licensing, and it is good for font developers because they will have a guaranteed revenue.

What would you say to a designer who has a deadline to hit and is tempted for speed just to copy the fonts from a colleague’s Mac?

Today there really are no excuses. Every font developer has their fonts available online where licences can be purchased in just a few minutes.

How can we reconcile the need for agencies and their designers to be experimental with fonts (in ways that might never actually get used beyond the initial brainstorming stage) with foundries’ need to ensure they get paid?

That’s exactly why Dalton Maag introduced its free trial licence this year. Designers and agencies can download fully-functional trial versions of our fonts for free for pitching and testing. It is then the agencies’ responsibility to ensure to budget for font usage should the project progress, and to purchase the correct size and type of licence, for themselves and possibly for their clients.

What’s the biggest issue facing foundries and their intellectual property today and tomorrow?

As we try to understand and cater to more needs from a wider and more international audience, the functionality of fonts and the cost of their development increases exponentially, but the risks of commercial failure remain the same.

But I do believe that the biggest threat in the industry is from the industry itself. Many typeface designers are overly protective of the fruits of their labour, even for those who possess a valid licence; there seems to be a lack of appreciation that without the honesty of the paying customer we wouldn’t have a business at all, and no real understanding that the value of our work isn’t truly realized until the fonts are used in the real world.

Add to this impenetrable licence agreements with gotcha clauses and terms which will never work in the real world, and it’s no wonder that so many users feel that font foundries aren’t on their side.