Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of another designer’s work while deliberately misrepresenting it as one's own original work.
Monotype Policy on Plagiarism
We will not accept and sell fonts that we believe to be plagiarized. This includes modified copies of existing fonts, designs that are identical or nearly identical to existing fonts, or fonts that contain other technical features which are derived directly from other fonts. Guiding our approach is the assumption that our partners have good intentions, the expectation that Monotype's partners act ethically, and the mandate that foundries only submit fonts they may rightfully sell. When foundries fill out the application to join Monotype, they complete a section certifying that their fonts are not plagiarized.
Common Kinds of Plagiarism
Downloading or purchasing a font file and then re-releasing it for sale or for free as your own is plagiarism. This means that when comparing the files, the outlines of the shapes are the same - point by point.
In general, a Derivative Work is a modification or recreation of a copyright-protected work that requires permission from the owner of the original work. Downloading or purchasing a font file, then making changes and re-releasing it for sale or for free as your own without permission of the owner of the original work is plagiarism. For example, it is not okay to take a font design, edit the shapes and compile them in a new font file. This includes running vectors through filters in illustrator, smoothing out paths, making small changes, and more. Another example of plagiarism is downloading a font file and adding texture - the actual design is the same, it just has a different texture. If you want to make a font based on another font, simply reach out to the foundry and ask permission first.
An aside about derivative works:
“Derivative Work” is also a legal term that is defined in the US Copyright Act as:
A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.
You may see a “derivative works” section in agreements with font distributors and marketplaces. This is often included in contracts between type foundries and font distributors because, among other things, font distributors like MyFonts need the rights to generate webfonts from your font files so they can deliver them to customers. A webfont created from a desktop font file is considered a derivative work and constitutes plagiarism absent permission from the original designer.
What’s Not Plagiarism
Often, a foundry will create a typeface and strikes a chord with the design community. This font becomes popular, sells well, and life is good. Other enterprising foundries may see this font resonating with customers and create fonts that are in the same style, but are distinctly different designs. As a result, the market becomes more competitive and designers have more choices available. After a while, this font style becomes a category, and there are many font options to choose from. This isn’t plagiarism. Because there are only so many ways to draw the alphabet, inevitably some characters end up looking similar. Common examples of this are categories like monoline scripts, fonts with unique serifs, or highly decorative retro faces.
Some type designers find fonts or lettering on old products, packaging, letters, or books and choose to digitize and revive these fonts. In general, with proper attribution to the original designer, this is not plagiarism. For foundries who do this, it is best practice to do research and make every best effort to identify the fonts, ensure that these are not already existing in the market, contact the designer or owner of the font, and contribute something new and unique to the design. While we will allow these on our sites, we generally don’t accept historic revivals of fonts that are already sold on our sites or do not contribute anything new to the type landscape. For example, we’re not going to accept a single weight with a limited character set of a popular older font if we’re already selling 10 different families of it, many of which have many weights and styles.
Clones are a typeface design that is identical or nearly identical to a pre-existing typeface design generated by independently developed font software. Clones have an interesting history. Back when the era of digital fonts were just beginning, many companies began turning existing typeface designs into digital fonts. This resulted in many “clones” of the same design and, in some cases, the same name available on the market. In the past, we allowed clones on our sites. While clones are not necessarily plagiarism in their own right, we no longer accept new clones on our sites today.
What to do if you think your font has been plagiarized
Let’s say you come across a typeface design that you think looks like one of your fonts. It’s never a great feeling and may cause you to feel panic, anger, sadness, or indignation. While every issue is unique, and this should not be construed as legal advice, here are some tips that have been successful:
- First, don’t panic! Take a moment to collect your thoughts before saying or doing something publicly that you’d regret or may make you or your foundry’s brand look bad later. Put yourself in the other foundry’s shoes. Most foundries are not intentionally copying others; they have brands to grow and protect and customers to make happy too! Many cases of potential plagiarism fall in a grey area - they’re not black or white and there are always two (or more) sides to the story.
- Second, read the section in this article about Common Kinds of Plagiarism.
- Do your research. Take screenshots of similar characteristics between the two designs. Look at the dates of font releases. Download font files and examine them if possible.
- If you can, send an email to the foundry whose font you’re concerned about. Try to work things out in a professional manner. You’re more likely to come to an agreeable solution if everyone is treated civilly.
- Email any distributors who are selling the possibly plagiarized fonts. Each distributor has its own procedure and policy about this. In general, distributors don’t want to sell plagiarized fonts either, and will often be happy to work with you to resolve the issue. Provide a thorough description with links, screenshots, and any other results of your research.
Reporting potential plagiarism to us
We can only accept reports of potential plagiarism from the owner or an authorized representative of the owner of the plagiarized font. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with information including screenshots, links, and a thorough description of the issue. We will not investigate reports that are incomplete or vague.
What happens when you contact us about a possible plagiarism
After receiving your email, we will initiate our standard review procedure. A member of the Monotype foundry team will investigate the issue, utilizing font identification tools and collective knowledge. If plagiarism is found, we may deactivate the font(s) and may terminate the font distribution agreement. Since foundries certify that their fonts are not plagiarized when they fill out the application form when signing up as a new foundry, if we discover blatant plagiarism, we generally terminate the distribution agreement. We'll attempt to notify the infringing foundry about the nature of the complaint and the resulting action. We'll also let the reporting foundry know the result of our investigation. If no plagiarism is found, we'll respond to the reporting foundry with an explanation.
What does Monotype do to prevent plagiarized fonts from being added to the site in the first place?
Foundries are aware from the beginning that plagiarism is not okay and not permitted. The application form to join Monotype explicitly states our expectations for fonts and foundries must certify that their fonts are not plagiarized before submitting the application.
Additionally, all fonts submitted to Monotype are reviewed by a member of the foundry team. If a font design origin is questionable, a team member will investigate further using font identification tools and collective knowledge and possibly reach out to the foundry for more information before accepting or rejecting.
We do our best to avoid releasing plagiarized fonts but often this is a very subjective and manual process; it’s not black and white and there are many sides to each story. We expect and trust foundry partners to behave ethically and release only fonts that they have the right to sell. We reserve the right to not sell any fonts, for any reason.