Why Is it so easy to find free fonts?

I was looking for a particular font today as I often do for various projects. I used What The Font to identify it and it immediately came up at the top of the list as they usually do. I did a quick Google search and there it was…for free. As someone who has bought dozens of fonts, I started to wonder why so many fonts are available for free. I mean, even fonts from big foundries can be found for free. Does anyone have any idea why this is? I’m sure people work hard to create them and I think they should be compensated for their work. Thoughts?

As someone who designs typefaces and builds fonts, the answer isn’t that mysterious.

First, it’s easy for unethical people to steal a font and upload it to free font sites that don’t bother to check who owns the font.

Second, taking someone to court over a $30 font is impractical.

Third, no copyright protection exists for typeface designs in the United States, so prosecuting the thefts is nearly impossible except in rare cases.

However, many of the copies on the free font sites are junk. Many are old, obsolete versions converted from old PostScript Type 1 fonts. Some of my fonts have ended up there, but they’re almost always ruined in one way or another or represent the first version of something I built instead of the more recent versions. Personally, I wouldn’t trust anything found on a free font site — there’s too much garbage and no reliable way to differentiate between the legitimate fonts and the pirated and inferior stuff.

I produce free fonts, I do it for the art and the craft, it is my hobby. But my fonts are under appreciated precisely because they are free. People assume that they are garbage because they are free, but they are not garbage, a lot of work went into their creation, they have a good language coverage and well crafted open type features. There are so many free fonts out there that are garbage that good free fonts are often missed in the multitude of mediocrity.

Fortunately I am not in it for fame or recognition, I just do it because it is interesting and I like doing it, but a little recognition would be nice occasionally. Oh well …

Free Fonts Can Be Licensed

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news: many free fonts aren’t really free . Here’s the deal: typefaces are creative works. Think of them the same way you think of movies, music, or any other artistic creations.

I wish a free-to-use font site existed that vetted their submissions for quality and legitimacy. They would do some background checks on every submission to ensure they weren’t pirated or cloned. They would insist on a minimum character set, check the outlines for accuracy and efficiency, look at the kerning pairs, give points for OpenType features or harder-to-find Unicode ranges, look at the hinting, etc., then decide whether to accept them.

Google Fonts does this, more or less, but they don’t seem too interested in expanding their library. Besides, they insist that all submissions are submitted as open source for others to modify.

As a printer, I particularly love (not) the free fonts that are ‘for personal use only.’ That doesn’t mean commercial use, as in business logos or other stuff you are selling to others. “Personal use” means your scrapbook, not your design clients.

It’s even better, when I have to try to purchase a commercial license to print said commercial items, and the developer is nowhere to be found to get such a license.

Lately too, we’ve been running into font licensing (both “free” and “licensed”) that requires an additional extended license to create 3-dimensional art, like oh, say, a cut letter sign for your lobby wall or a lit up can letter sign for the side of your building. Those extra fees cost some bucks. As a designer, you should always read the EULA and don’t saddle your clients with extra fees for dumb fonts, free or otherwise. I’m sure this is a result of the 3D printer and laser market but seriously, foundries that do that should be avoided to teach them a lesson.

When I buy a book, I don’t anticipate any restrictions saying I can read it every day of the week except Tuesdays or when riding a bus, which involves an additional licensing fee.

I’m not sure why foundries put these peculiar limitations on how their fonts are used. As far as I’m concerned, fonts are to use in whatever way buyers want to use them short of making copies and distributing them.

Font Squirrel does this, I cannot upload to the site it is up to their ‘Submissions team’ (one person as far as I can tell) to accept the font and they do check for quality. I don’t know if they check for the rest or what criteria they use but they do check fonts before inclusion on the site.

The fonts they have of mine is not the full set of fonts I have done, just the ones that their ‘submissions team’ liked.

The site makes it’s money through advertising.