Web font embedding

Sunday 10 May 2009

There’s a lot of talk of web font embedding these days. Dave Shea covers the technology and debate pretty well, as well as showing one (flawed) technique for accomplishing it today. Mark Pilgrim has a much more radical opinion, which also serves as a jumping off point for a very spirited debate in the comments.

Basically, it comes down to this: web designers want to be able to use more than just the web-safe fonts in their pages, which means somehow linking to interesting fonts. Font designers want to keep their fonts from becoming free-ware, so want some form of control over where the product of their sweat ends up. In some ways, it’s a classic DRM battle, but over typefaces rather than songs or films.

There are some good free fonts out there, (also here and here), but not many. The high-quality faces, which require not only good design but good implementation in the form of hinting, cost real money, which money funds their development.

So there’s plenty of discussion about this, but no clear resolution. The browsers are just beginning to support @font-face, so it will become more of an issue in the coming year. Hopefully we can resolve this like civilized people, without the battles the music and movie industries have been relishing.


Antonio 11:54 AM on 10 May 2009

Hey Pinko,

Why can't this be resolved with the foundries doing a "for web" license deal which provides a canonical URL that says that for domain foo.com, you've got a valid license. Then the browsers could implement this simple check before displaying the font. And to boot, if you use a font unlicensed, the browser could default to Comic Sans for extra punishment.

Sure, people could write browsers or event extensions to circumvent this, but some privacy is always going to happen.

Charles Darke 1:19 PM on 10 May 2009

It would be nice if browsers included a standard way to embed truetype fonts. I don't care about 'commercial fonts' - there are enough decent free fonts available. Let's enable freeware fonts first - if there's a need for paid-for fonts, let the font foundries come up with a solution in their own time while we get on with using the free fonts available.

masklinn 4:25 PM on 10 May 2009

Why can't this be resolved with the foundries doing a "for web" license deal which provides a canonical URL that says that for domain foo.com, you've got a valid license. Then the browsers could implement this simple check before displaying the font.

Have you read Pilgrim's piece? Because he tackles that "idea" right at the top.

And if it's more locked down, it becomes a DRM, which will only serve to drive people away (especially since they're not relying on fonts right now, there's 0 incentive to bend over and take the DRM)

Charles Monk 5:39 PM on 10 May 2009

Wouldn't fund-and-release solve this problem? If someone can craft fonts so well that others are prepared to pay for licencing, then they should have some notoriety/reputation. The font-maker could try collecting the money for the work in advance and then making the font freely available.

For more on fund-and-release, see Wikipedia or the Takoha Manifesto.

Charles Monk 5:41 PM on 10 May 2009

Oops. Let's try that Takoha address again.

Michael Kohne 8:15 PM on 10 May 2009

I have to say that the one thing that won't happen is that the font guys won't get paid on a per-user basis. The sooner they get that fully integrated and figure out some workable solution, the better.

There are really only two possibilities:
1) Give the fonts away. The current font guys don't like this because they went to all the trouble of developing really good fonts really well because they thought they'd get paid.

2) Get the web site operators to pay for the fonts they want to use. This MIGHT work, but the font guys have to realize that their stuff is going to be 'appropriated' by lots of annoying people who couldn't afford to buy it anyway.

Sadly, like music and video, the font industry has to find a new way to make money. Unlike music and video, the way to do so is much less clear.

Tony Meyer 3:24 AM on 11 May 2009

I don't understand this, and no-one seems to address the fundamental issue. What is it about fonts that makes them more valuable or more in need of protection than any other content?

Photographers, writers, artists (...) have accepted that you need to (a) trust people, and (b) use legal methods to punish people that betray that trust, and that's the only way that online content works.

There's absolutely nothing (technical) stopping anyone stealing image or text (or ...) content from any site. Why should there be something special for fonts?

Am I missing something?

John wang 11:41 PM on 12 May 2009

I have face this problems. I used some different fonts on my website. however they could not work well on IE 8 and firefox.

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