For approval: SIL Open Font License 1.1

Bruce Perens bruce at
Sun Nov 9 20:24:11 UTC 2008

Nicolas Spalinger wrote:
> Have you studied how other licenses deal with the embedding problems?
I will refrain from playing back large parts of my resume, and just say yes.
> What are your thoughts on that? Why do you think the experimental GPL
> font exception was written then? How clear and trustworthy do you find
> the language of that exception (with it's "may" "might" "at your option")?
Well, here's the text:

    As a special exception, if you create a document which uses this
    font, and embed this font or unaltered portions of this font into
    the document, this font does not by itself cause the resulting
    document to be covered by the GNU General Public License. This
    exception does not however invalidate any other reasons why the
    document might be covered by the GNU General Public License. If you
    modify this font, you may extend this exception to your version of
    the font, but you are not obligated to do so. If you do not wish to
    do so, delete this exception statement from your version.

Sometimes, "may" and "might" are used to be ambiguous about facts, but 
not here.

It uses "may" in the form of granting a permission that you can choose 
to exercise, or not. It is not ambiguous about the grant. It does not 
use "must" because in that case you would not have the choice to refrain 
from exercising the permission.

It uses "might" to indicate that there could be other consequences - not 
connected with the font permission - that place the document under the 
GPL For example, the document's copyright holder could have applied the 
GPL to the document. It makes it clear that the font exception does not 
release you from a requirement to honor the license of the overall 
document. This is really important to say, because there have been other 
cases where people make that mistake.

So, your basic question I think is ``does the use of "may" and "might" 
weaken this license?'' No, not as they are used in this case.

Also, see the commentary by David Turner at
> Do you really distribute fonts with each document you sent?
Actually, this is the topic of a W3C standard currently in draft. There 
will be more distribution of fonts with web pages as browsers gain 
additional capability to use them. IE and the latest version of Firefox 
can do that.
> Embedding - as in including part of the fonts in a
> PDF document - is not the same as distributing it as a whole i.e. a
> reusable fully functional font.
It can be. I can do it in OpenDocument that way. I can embed and extract 
it with "gzip" and "unzip", common command line tools that are shipped 
by default with Linux and available for free download on Windows. And 
your license would allow that. Whether or not that is commonly done, it 
is what someone who intended to circumvent your license would do. And 
someone who was a defendant could show a court that he did it as a way 
of being completely excused from any need to comply with your license 

You can give the necessary permissions without releasing people from the 
license entirely, you just need to write the proper language to do that.
> With a clear distribution clause and a model which satisfies the
> cultural needs of the actual producers of the fonts we are already
> improving on the situation for many users. 
Sure, I agree that we need to develop our own fonts. But part of the 
reason the font developers are accepting the license is that they think 
they can enforce it. But as far as I can tell, they never can.



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