Are fonts subject to copyright protection?

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

Q: Are fonts subject to copyright protection?

A: Yes. Fonts — which are basically computer programs or software that tell your printer or computer screen how to create the shape of a letter or character — meet all the requirements for copyright protection. They are:

  1. original
  2. creative
  3. fixed in a tangible form

So fonts are subject to copyright protection in the United States unless their owner explicitly releases them into the public domain.

If you want to use a font that is not in the public domain, you must have a license to do so. Many fonts are free, others are packaged with software and some are sold separately. When obtaining a standalone font, work only with reputable, known companies (or “font foundries,” as they are often called) and be sure to read the license to make sure that what you’re purchasing meets your project’s needs and that you are complying with its terms.

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Ask SPLC questions will be selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Ask SPLC segment.