For approval: SIL Open Font License 1.1

Nicolas Spalinger nicolas_spalinger at
Sun Nov 9 21:56:11 UTC 2008

Bruce Perens wrote:
> 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.

I'm certainly not questioning your experience. And I'm glad for all the
great work you have accomplished over the years in both code and legal
framework for the community.

What I'm asking it how other FLOSS licenses currently used for fonts
deal with embedding of fonts in documents? Apart from David Turner's
font exception to the GPL (which came quite a while later compared to
the writing and release of the GPL) I don't see other font licenses
tackling the problem. Many in the community just seem to ignore it and
hope it goes away. It took concerns expressed by the Scribus authors for
others to consider it more seriously.

>> 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.

OK but this is not how it may be read by many. IMHO they may read
something like: there may be lots of other reasons that will have a
influence on the license of your document, make it fall under the GPL
and demand that you to satisfy its source requirements but we aren't
telling you.

> 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.

How about the problem for users that they need to know that their
freedom to use their choice of content license may be affected by a
designer wishing to drop the exception in a downstream branch? How
impractical is it to check each time that the particular branch of the
font software you happen to use still has the exception? How do you
provide corresponding sources for a PDF document?

IMHO too many scenarios to imagine for a clear model for both users and
font designers....

It seems very Impractical to have a software license impose choice on
content licensing. Better apply content-specific licenses to content.

> 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.

I am well aware of that discussion and the open font community is
involved. (BTW currently webkit - and its derivatives - have support for
@font-face, but IE only supports EOT. Firefox and Opera only support
@font-face in devel builds).

But a @font-face stanza is still referencing an external font. Although
some want to call this embedding it is really linking and distributing
fonts via a src: URI, not merging the html document with the font in one
single file.

Incidentally, a font released under the OFL is used as one of the
examples in the current draft:

Nicolas Spalinger, NRSI volunteer

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