For approval: SIL Open Font License 1.1

Nicolas Spalinger nicolas_spalinger at
Wed Nov 5 23:41:59 UTC 2008

Bruce Perens wrote:
> OSI refused to consider the Open Hardware License because they felt
> their task should be limited to software. So, I'm not sure they will
> wish to take this on at all. Whatever they feel, I feel the license is
> worth working upon.

Fonts *are* software and copyrightable as such in various jurisdictions.

> If OSI does not take it on, I recommend that you ask the Debian team to
> look at it, as they require the entire contents of their distribution to
> comply with the DFSG, which is the document that eventually became the OSD.

There has already been discussion with various Debian developers on
this. I presented a talk about open fonts at the Debconf in Edimburgh.
As indicated in my submission email, the Debian ftp-masters have
accepted the license and various OFL-ed fonts are in main. The OFL is
seen as a solution to fix existing less-than-ideal font licenses used by
fonts currently present in the Debian archive. We continue packaging new
OFL-ed fonts.

>    The OFL allows the licensed fonts to be used, studied, modified and
>    redistributed freely
> Although we know between ourselves that you mean "libre", we can't
> expect the rest of the world to know that you don't mean "gratis". It
> will confuse them. Delete the word? This is more a neatness quibble than
> a strong complaint.
>    as long as they are not sold by themselves. The
>    fonts, including any derivative works, can be bundled, embedded,   
> redistributed and/or sold with any software
> Only software? I can't for example, distribute the fonts as part of a
> disk full of documents that incorporate them by reference? This seems to
> me to be a pretty big problem.

It depends if you're distributing this for a fee or not. You can satisfy
the requirement by adding "any software". Documents are data and not

> I understand that you want to avoid the
> 1000-Fonts disks, but it seems the cure is worse than the disease. My
> free software is on lots of CDs that are sold. If anything, that has
> helped to enlarge its community.

Ask any font designer about this and they will tell you the dark fear of
the 1000-fonts CD is deeply rooted and it's very understandable. This
clause is designed as the *key nexus between DFSG/OSD #1 and what font
designers want*. When sold it *has to come with software* and can't be
sold on its own.

Your own free software (which rocks BTW) is probably not sold on its own
but as part of a collection of other software. The purpose of this OFL
clause is to keep rogue font resellers from simply including OFL-ed
fonts as such in their current production line and profit directly from
that but certainly not to prevent inclusion in distro software
repositories or magazine CDs.

You may look at this as easily circumventable (and yes it is relatively
so) but it sends a clear message and that's exactly what designers want.

>    provided that any reserved  names
>    names are not used by derivative works.
> I understand that you don't want the reserved names to be used as font
> names in derivative works, so that people will get the font they asked
> for. But suppose I wrote one of the reserved names into a
> machine-readable list of front names from which the font was derived.

This clause is *not intended* to cover font fallback and association
mechanisms outside of the font software itself so you can write all the
fontconfig-like matching rules you want. We're talking about font
software-level and not system-level here.

But if you branch an existing font then you modify the work (for better
or for worse) the end-result will be different from what you branched
from so you're asked not to mess up the namespace and break user
expectations and document rendering. This is essentially the Knuthian
"please don't create chaos" clause. Allowing freedom to branch while
maintaining artistic integrity for existing fonts.

The FAQ has these relevant items:

Question: 2.7  Why can't I use the Reserved Font Name(s) in my
derivative font names? I'd like people to know where the design came from.
Answer: The best way to acknowledge the source of the design is to thank
the original authors and any other contributors in the files that are
distributed with your revised font (although no acknowledgement is
required). The FONTLOG is a natural place to do this. Reserved Font
Name(s) ensure that the only fonts that have the original names are the
unmodified Original Versions. This allows designers to maintain artistic
integrity while allowing collaboration to happen. It eliminates
potential confusion and name conflicts. When choosing a name be creative
and avoid names that reuse almost all the same letters in the same order
or sound like the original. Keep in mind that the Copyright Holder(s)
can allow a specific trusted partner to use Reserved Font Name(s)
through a separate written agreement.

Question: 2.8  What do you mean by "primary name as presented to the
user"? Are you referring to the font menu name?
Answer: Yes, the requirement to change the visible name used to
differentiate the font from others applies to the font menu name and
other mechanisms to specify a font in a document. It would be fine, for
example, to keep a text reference to the original fonts in the
description field, in your modified source file or in documentation
provided alongside your derivative as long as no one could be confused
that your modified source is the original. But you cannot use the
Reserved Font Names in any way to identify the font to the user (unless
the Copyright Holder(s) allow(s) it through a separate agreement; see
section 2.7). Users who install derivatives ("Modified Versions") on
their systems should not see any of the original names ("Reserved Font
Names") in their font menus, for example. Again, this is to ensure that
users are not confused and do not mistake a font for another and so
expect features only another derivative or the Original Version can
actually offer. Ultimately, creating name conflicts will cause many
problems for the users as well as for the designer of both the Original
and Modified versions, so please think ahead and find a good name for
your own derivative. Font substitution systems like fontconfig, or
application-level font fallback configuration within or
Scribus, will also get very confused if the name of the font they are
configured to substitute to actually refers to another physical font on
the user's hard drive. It will help everyone if Original Versions and
Modified Versions can easily be distinguished from one another and from
other derivatives. The substitution mechanism itself is outside the
scope of the license. Users can always manually change a font reference
in a document or set up some kind of substitution at a higher level but
at the lower level the fonts themselves have to respect the Reserved
Font Name(s) requirement to prevent ambiguity. If a substitution is
currently active the user should be aware of it.

> That is useful but fails the above term. Suppose someone had a font 
> named "The", and I had a font named "The Tiger". That one fails too. 
> What if I started with "Lucida" and made a derivative called 
> "Lucida-Munged". Would that be inpermissible? Can you tighten this 
> language up so that the limitation is no larger than necessary?

The limitation is on names not on strict letters. Your article example
is misleading as articles in font name are rarely used.

The FAQ has these relevant items:

Question: 2.9  Am I not allowed to use any part of the Reserved Font Names?
Answer: You may not use the words of the font names, but you would be
allowed to use parts of words, as long as you do not use any word from
the Reserved Font Names entirely. We do not recommend using parts of
words because of potential confusion, but it is allowed. For example, if
"Foobar" was a Reserved Font Name, you would be allowed to use "Foo" or
"bar", although we would not recommend it. Such an unfortunate choice
would confuse the users of your fonts as well as make it harder for
other designers to contribute.

Question: 2.10  So what should I, as an author, identify as Reserved
Font Names?
Answer: Original authors are encouraged to name their fonts using clear,
distinct names, and only declare the unique parts of the name as
Reserved Font Names. For example, the author of a font called "Foobar
Sans" would declare "Foobar" as a Reserved Font Name, but not "Sans", as
that is a common typographical term, and may be a useful word to use in
a derivative font name. Reserved Font Names should also be single words.
A font called "Flowing River" should have Reserved Font Names "Flowing"
and "River", not "Flowing River".

Question: 2.11  Do I, as an author, have to identify any Reserved Font

Answer: No, but we strongly encourage you to do so. This is to avoid
confusion between your work and Modified versions. You may, however,
give certain trusted parties the right to use any of your Reserved Font
Names through separate written agreements. For example, even if "Foobar"
is a RFN, you could write up an agreement to give company "XYZ" the
right to distribute a modified version with a name that includes
"Foobar". This allows for freedom without confusion.

>    The fonts and derivatives,
>    however, cannot be released under any other type of license.
> This makes more sense if stated as "All fonts derived from this work
> must be under this license". You should probably define what fonts are.

"Font Software" is defined in the Definitions section.

> Maybe "glyphs" too.

I don't think we want the legalese of defining every word. Designers
already know what glyphs are.

>    The
>    requirement for fonts to remain under this license does not apply
>    to any document created using the fonts or their derivatives.
> So, if the font gets incorporated into a document, and I extract it from
> that document, I can now put it under any license I like? Better make
> that more clear.

This clause exists to fix a much overlooked problem in the FLOSS world:
allowing explicit embedding problem when the font software is placed
under a copyleft license.

Many have actually been using copyleft fonts and not respecting the
influence that it has on their output document for a long time. (like
the GPL used without the recent font exception). How about I ask to see
all the sources for the documents I received from you containing
embedded GPL fonts? Much more of a practical problem than extraction.

The rather stretched scenario you're proposing usually only allows to
extract non-functional items from a document say a PDF. There are not a
lot of tools to do that. PDF generators also sometimes scramble the
embedded fonts. You can grab some outlines but not an entire font nor
the smart code or hinting information. There will have to be
modifications made to it. Also the outlines are considered to be the
expression of the font software.

>    "Font Software" refers to the set of files released by the Copyright
>    Holder(s) under this license and clearly marked as such. This may
>    include source files, build scripts and documentation.
> This is confusing. Is it a computer program, or data? Software generally
> means a program. If you used the word "The Work" instead of "Font
> Software", it would be more general. If you don't want to be that
> general, you can call it "Font Package".

This has been the subject of long discussions. The current wording has
satisfied many relevant parties. Defining font sources is hard. Fonts
contains software and data. Both artwork and smart code. Font object
code can be reused and reopened in an editor and modified more easily
than say C compiled object code. And then there are all the glyphs
databases, attachment points, text-based smart font code sources, binary
or XML representations, build and pre-post-processing scripts, etc... We
felt "Font Software" with the definition above was more satisfactory
than other definitions out there.

>    "Reserved Font Name" refers to any names specified as such after the
>    copyright statement(s).
>        "Original Version" refers to the collection of Font Software
>    components as
>    distributed by the Copyright Holder(s).
>        "Modified Version" refers to any derivative made by adding to,
>    deleting,
>    or substituting -- in part or in whole -- any of the components of the
>    Original Version, by changing formats or by porting the Font
>    Software to a
>    new environment.
>        "Author" refers to any designer, engineer, programmer, technical
>    writer or other person who contributed to the Font Software.
>    Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
>    a copy of the Font Software, to use, study, copy, merge, embed, modify,
>    redistribute, and sell modified and unmodified copies of the Font
>    Software, subject to the following conditions:
>        1) Neither the Font Software nor any of its individual components,
>    in Original or Modified Versions, may be sold by itself.
>        2) Original or Modified Versions of the Font Software may be
> bundled,
>    redistributed and/or sold with any software, provided that each copy
>    contains the above copyright notice and this license. These can be
>    included either as stand-alone text files, human-readable headers or
>    in the appropriate machine-readable metadata fields within text or
>    binary files as long as those fields can be easily viewed by the user.
> Outside of the license, please define a standard for where the license
> goes in the work. Business people tear their hair at the amount of work
> that must be done just to find the licenses, because they aren't all in
> the same place or readable with the same tools.

The OFL FAQ has many recommendations about that and there are templates
available for human-readable metadata. The OpenType spec has metadata
field designed for that which we recommend using properly. Fontforge
includes a OFL button to make it easier to add all the right information
in the right fields. We have worked on representing the working model of
the OFL in lawyer-readable / human-readable / machine-readable formats.
We have worked on improving the exposure of this information throught
the free desktop. RDF Digital Rights Expression for the OFL is being
worked on and on track for integration.

The Open Font Library is building these best practises into its CMS.

>    3) No Modified Version of the Font Software may use the Reserved Font
>    Name(s) unless explicit written permission is granted by the
>    corresponding
>    Copyright Holder. This restriction only applies to the primary font
>    name as
>    presented to the users.
> Our experience is that copyright holders die, etc. And then the names
> are frozen forever. Be nice to the font developer world and provide an
> escape hatch so that someone can continue to maintain the font and its
> name once the copyright holder is no longer responding to requests
> regarding the work for a protracted period.

The copyright holder can allow use of Reserved Font Names to trusted
partners. And we strongly recommend the use of a FONTLOG so that people
have a way of finding out (among other things) the contact details of
the authors and from that how active they are.

Without this name protection mechanism that can't be deactivated by
anyone, I doubt we'd any real font designer onboard. We have designed
the overall model to be sufficiently pragmatic and balanced between
designers and users.

Fontconfig-like systems can also be made to provide fallback in these
extreme cases for documents that refer to a particular font when a new
branch (and a new name) has superseded that particular font.

>        4) The name(s) of the Copyright Holder(s) or the Author(s) of the
> Font
>    Software shall not be used to promote, endorse or advertise any
>    Modified Version, except to acknowledge the contribution(s) of the
>    Copyright Holder(s) and the Author(s) or with their explicit written
>    permission.
>        5) The Font Software, modified or unmodified, in part or in whole,
>    must be distributed entirely under this license, and must not be
>    distributed under any other license. The requirement for fonts to
>    remain under this license does not apply to any document created
>    using the Font Software. 
> This is repeating previous paragraphs. Please condense so that this is
> said once rather than twice.

It is only repeated in condensed form in the preamble paragraph and
really needs be included clearly in the permissions section of the
license.  BTW, many - even after years of exposure to FLOSS - don't read
the full licenses and stop at the preamble. So we express the purpose
and working model of the license in the preamble and then specify fully
the permissions and conditions afterwards.

>    This license becomes null and void if any of the above conditions are
>    not met.
> You mean "this license terminates". Null and void could be read as
> removing the requirements of the license.

That's quite a strech: the whole license becomes null and void not just
its requirements.

> So, have you had a lawyer look at this yet and clean up the language? 
> If I had to guess, I'd say no. I think that's a necessary step before
> you submit this license to OSI, because you don't want to saddle the
> whole world of font developers with the unexpected consequences of a
> license that hasn't had attention from legal counsel.
> And OSI's board would not be responsible if they approved a license 
> that needed that sort of help. There are various sources of free
> legal help such as the Software Freedom Law Center.

We did follow the good advice that you gave me at the WSIS to contact
the SFLC experts and Eben Moglen gave us an OK (SFLC interacted with the
FSF licensing committee about this AFAIK) without requiring changes to
the wording.

> I think this isn't ready for submission yet. I suggest you withdraw it,
> move the discussion to a public list other than license-review, and get
> legal help.

As I indicated in my submission email many designers have already
welcomed the model and are taking advantage of it and many more users
are benefiting. The OFL is already adopted and recommended in the

Let's see what others at OSI think.

>    Thanks
>    Bruce

Thank you,

Nicolas Spalinger, NRSI volunteer

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