For approval: SIL Open Font License 1.1

Nicolas Spalinger nicolas_spalinger at
Wed Nov 5 01:56:25 UTC 2008

Dear OSI,

As a volunteer representing SIL International, the steward of the SIL
Open Font License, I'm pleased to submit version 1.1 of the license for
OSI approval.

Before explaining the rationale for a new font-specific OSD-compliant
license let me give some historic background:

Research and thinking around better font distribution and collaboration
models has taken place over a number of years and more recently as part
of the contribution of SIL International to UNESCO's B at bel initiative in
the area of Writing Systems Implementation:

Fonts being a key item in the whole stack needed for writing system
implementation (for which SIL already provides various software under
FSF and OSI-approved licenses like LGPL, GPL and MIT/X11/Expat), we felt
a licensing model in tune with the FLOSS culture was needed to improve
and accelerate cross-organisation and cross-community collaborative font
design to better deal with the challenges and complexity of writing
systems still in need of a quality unencumbered implementation,
especially for lesser-known and smaller languages communities where
economic incentive and commercial involvement is low but human and
cultural value is high.
Major catalysts for this research were the award-winning Gentium project
by Victor Gaultney and the Graphite smart font rendering technology by
Sharon Correll and others:

So why was there a need for a new font-specific license?
We looked at the existing models and studied what they achieved, their
community impact and while there were some good elements which we built
upon, overall we found them lacking and not adapted to the specific
needs of collaborative font design. There was a need for features
unavailable in existing licenses and various problems were not
adequately solved by existing community-approved licenses. We had to
find a better nexus between FLOSS licenses and the particular needs of
font designers and script engineers. There was also a need for a unified
community/industry-approved license that would form the basis for a
wider collaborative font community and so help reduce the increasing
font license proliferation and the many project/org-specific licenses
popping up.

Obviously the DFSG (Debian Free Software Guidelines) and the OSD
were key guidelines for our research and community review.

We consulted community experts and presented the license and its working
model at various major conferences around the world (RMLL, LGM, GUADEC,
OooCon, Akademy, Debconf, Ubuntu Developer Summit, AtypI conference,
TextLayout Meeting, TUG conference) to engage all the stakeholders in
the community and get the widest input. There were discussions with
Bruce Perens himself at the WSIS and with Debian, FSF and SFLC legal
experts (among others) both via email and face-to-face.

The key problems and grey areas the OFL is designed to fix (as opposed
to existing licenses) are:
    * use, study, modification, redistribution (the 4 core freedoms)
    * bundling
    * embedding and its interaction with possible strong or weak
copyleft requirements
    * derivative outlines and artwork status
    * derivative fonts status
    * artistic integrity
    * anti-name collision
    * name protection
    * reputation protection for authors
    * preventing stand-alone reselling within huge collections
    * more descriptive changes of modifications
    * clarity and readability for designers
    * awareness of the software nature of fonts
    * the multiplicity of font source formats, some open and
human-readable and some opaque/binary
    * good integration with the font design toolkit
    * legal solidity through wide expert and community review
    * metadata integration
    * cultural appropriateness to both the type design and FLOSS communities
    * stable trustworthy working model with a non-profit as the steward
of the license
    * being reusable and not project and .org-specific
    * allowing linking in a web context (more recently)

We believe we have, with the help of many in the community, written a
license satisfying the above requirements as well as the 10 criteria of
the Open Source Definition.

We have made the choice for a weak copyleft but with explicit mention of
bundling/embedding/reselling rights.

We have written what we feel are balanced clauses for redistribution and
name change provisions that still satisfy OSD #1 and #4 with the
necessary artistic protection while still allowing any modification and
branching to happen.

We have also focused on making the model as readable and easy to use as
possible with a FAQ explaining more precisely the intent and giving
practical recommendations, along with Creative Commons-like human
readable and visual representations.

We have constructed the OFL to follow the OSD guidelines, and although
the formal OSI process was on the backburner for too long and not
pursued until now, the model has been recognized and adopted in other
areas of the wider FLOSS community. I'm glad to indicate that many
OFL-ed fonts have been accepted by Debian in main.

The full text of the Open Font License 1.1 is available on

A corresponding FAQ is also available on

We have worked to fit with the useful non-proliferation criteria defined
by OSI of non-duplicative, clear and understandable, reusable licensing.

It's worth pointing out that FSF and SFLC licensing experts and lawyers
have reviewed and vetted the license and that the OFL is positively
reviewed on the FSF's license-list:

The appropriate license proliferation category is
"Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong communities".

Beyond the FSF's green light there is now wide community support for the
OFL: about a hundred or so font projects under OFL are currently
available from different authors and foundries with more in progress or
planned. Fonts released under OFL are included and maintained in Debian
& Ubuntu as well as Fedora and OpenSuse. *BSD distributions also include
OFL-ed fonts. The OFL approach is known and appreciated in the TeX
community: for example a major font project from the TeX community, the
Stix math fonts, has recognized and chosen the OFL based on community

Other foundries besides SIL have adopted the license like the Greek Font
Similarly, many contributors to the Open Font Library have released
their work under the OFL:

The use of the OFL isn't limited to a particular type of fonts, there
are cursive, decorative, logo, pixel, experimental, emerging writing
systems and commissioned fonts taking advantage of this collaborative model.

The author of fontforge - the main FLOSS font editor - recommends and
has integrated the OFL into his font editor.

There is a common community-wide "Go for OFL campaign" with support by
major bodies designed to encourage designers to consider unifying around
the license:

Various OFL-ed fonts are also shipping on the default OLPC/Sugar build.

Fonts under OFL are on track to be bundled with

In the Debian fonts team we run a regular review of all fonts to
encourage fixing licensing bugs with existing fonts (including metadata
mismatches) and to encourage designers to consider DSFG-compliant
licenses like the OFL for their creation:

We are maintaining a policy of encouraging unofficial translation of the
license and its corresponding FAQ to make it easier for non-English
speakers to make use of the license.

We are providing a foo-open-font-sources branch template to guide
designers on best practises to release their creation to the community.

With support from key players of the open web like the Mozilla
Foundation (among others), contributors to the Open Font Library are
working on providing open fonts to web designers through the @font-face
CSS standard.

Open font design workshops focusing on community teaching of open font
design with the FLOSS design toolkit have been organized, and more are
in preparation.

So, we are fairly confident you will recognize the value of the OFL and
its wide community acceptance and that there will be consensus about its
conformance to the OSD.


Nicolas Spalinger, NRSI volunteer
Debian and Ubuntu fonts teams
Open Font Library

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