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05 28 2009

So you’ve undoubtedly heard of the exciting announcement of Typekit, but being the pessimist that I am, I’m already a bit wary of the projected solution to our @font-face woes.

While things are still hazy about exactly how this new service would work, I’m rattled by the following section of the opening announcement:

We’ll be launching this summer with a great collection of beautiful and hardworking typefaces. We’ll offer a free version of the service to get you started, and a low-cost way to grow from there. A truly scalable professional version will follow soon after.

Pay? Again?

The issue with @font-face has largely revolved around licensing issues and the complications from the lack of DRM that it provides. Understandably, the type foundries are not willing to allow their hard work to be easily downloaded from linked font files.

The problem, at the moment, lies in this complicated licensing that is a result of technology failing to amicably meet the needs of type foundries and designers. As a result of this, it appears as if we’ll be renting our typefaces from a third party entity.

I already pay for a license to use typefaces within my design applications, and now I’ll need to pay again to use them in the final produced site: a recurring fee because files don’t host themselves.

While I’m excited that a group of influential people (who I admire) have taken this step towards making @font-face a more realistic tool, I have to wonder why we’re solving what is essentially a technical issue with yet more complicated legalize and extra money out of every designer’s pocket.

If the technology to link typefaces exists, designers can and will do so regardless of licensing. This will become the same battle DRM has been for the music and film industries, with the same outcome. The people who properly work through Typekit to protect the rights of the foundries will be the ones who pay extra money, while the ones who just link their font-files with abandon will be the ones truly enjoying @font-face.

Perhaps this is just a rant over lunch hour about something I don’t fully understand — and while I sincerely appreciate the effort — I think we may still be headed down the wrong path. Hopefully I’m just blowing smoke, because I’d love to see this service succeed.



  1. I see your point and upon first reading Typekit’s announcement I was dizzy with anticipation and glossed over the cost. I would willing pay $0-15 a month for unlimited use of their fonts. I do agree that this may not be the RIGHT path, but it’s at least in the same forest.

    The right path would be every foundry releasing a web-version of every font they support and produce, and it should be free. Wonder if we’ll ever get there.

  2. @Ben: I agree. Ideally I’d like to see @font-face support the necessary DRM to simplify this licensing issue. Microsoft may have had it right with the .eot files.

  3. Wow, what a ridiculous idea; “Introducing @font-face: now the fonts you can use are only limited by your imag-” wait, “Typekit’s repository.”

    And the compatibility issues almost defeat the whole point of @font-face. What if Javascript is disabled? Your page won’t have the fancy fonts, despite all the necessary technology being there. And if Typekit’s server goes down? Bye bye fonts, hello angry client phone-calls.

    I wouldn’t say you’re being pessimistic at all. There’s a lot wrong with this idea, and you can count me in as another detractor!

  4. I completely agree. There is a lot of exaggerated enthusiasm on the other thread.

    Enforcing DRM on the font-face level will have all the major hurdles of DRM on anything else.

  5. I too am skeptical about this. While it is a nice intermediate step and it will let people experiment with rich typography on the web in a way that won’t upset type foundries and designers, you hit the nail on the head in that it is not a true technical solution, it is a legal one.

    So essentially what has happened is that a group of very bright and influential people have spent time and resources to develop a solution that will satisfy the lawyers but not REALLY solve the problem.

    Is that progress?

  6. I wonder how typekit plans to succeed in offering a paid alternative to an option that is both free and superior in many ways.

  7. Johannes,

    I don’t think they can. The browsers will be natively handling this, and that is THE best way to do this.

    I have very little faith in this project, even though they have good intentions (I think).

  8. Oh, I know - it was more of a rhetorical question. I second your lack of faith.

  9. Couldn’t agree more, Kyle.

    It’s obvious type foundries are hesitant to embrace “@font-face” because they fear it will make it easier for users to steal their fonts. The way I see it, the only people who might possibly steal via “@font-face” are unethical designers, not 99% of the typical non-designer website visitors. Those who do plan on stealing a font WILL find a way to do so, whether “@font-face” is enabled or not.

    Although I don’t know all the details about Typekit, it certainly appears to be a step in the wrong direction.

  10. Use real HTML and CSS and if the Typekit server borks, you still have a usable Web site. Maybe even an attractive one.

    You don’t think they can really solve this problem? Well, guess what: I think they can.

  11. While there are the standard legitimate concerns over DRM, and the general murkiness of as-yet unrevealed implementation methods, TypeKit is part of a larger trend in the right direction. I would be surprised if we’re still relying on Javascript to keep font licensing within font files very far in the future, but from what little has been revealed it appears TypeKit is an evolutionary step bigger than sIFR or Cufon. In many ways its establishing the first real relationship between type foundries and designers in modern mediums.

    If nothing else, I’m impressed by the potential.

  12. Well, heh - how do you think they can solve the problem, Joe? I doubt anyone will pay to rely on a third party and add precious kilobytes worth of JavaScript to every page only to use a service that is inferior to the CSS3 standard in every way.

  13. Some really good thoughts on the potential negative points of Typekit, Kyle. I sincerely hope that it’ll work and I do think it’s a step in the right direction, but like you I’m worried that it solves the legal - and not technical - problem.

    Actually, my main concern in ‘renting’ fonts (vs. buying an extended license outirght) is the question of time. If you intend to keep a site up for a substantial period, the cost could eventually become considerable (although I’ll reserve judgement until I know Typekit’s exact pricing scheme), and although this could be likened to hosting costs, I foresee clients lacking appreciation of the service’s value in contrast to the value of hosting; e.g: you design a site using Typekit fonts, the client grows weary of the extra expense after a year, and then requests all subsequent sites to be built with the standard set of web fonts. In other words: back to square one.

    I’d love to see Typekit succeed and I think it’s far more progressive in solving the problem than anything else that has happened to far, but there are certainly issues that will need addressing.

  14. My development process spans 3 domains and a local non dynamic version.

    Project x would have the following urls:

    projectx (straight html/css/js, no CMS)
    projectx.local (cms integrated local version) (subversion repo) (actual domain, live site) (other domain, mirrored live site)

    I hope the Typekit people realize I’ll need to test my site in each of those, so their “thing” can’t be domain specific.

  15. I agree with @elliotjaystocks. This doesn’t really solve any of the technical problems of using non-standard fonts. Since I began reading about this yesterday I was leary. On the site it speaks of replacing techniques like sIFR and image replacement…with more javascript. Without javascript its incapable of running, isn’t that pretty much what our solutions already look like?

    And if they solved the legal aspect of using fonts then why are we paying to subscribe? Isn’t the heart of the issue that we want to use fonts freely or at least ones that we’ve purchased? Why not just sell advertising and host fonts for free? Or let us purchase fonts through the site (a one time fee), this would kind of make typekit the middle man, which is fine. I would greatly prefer this to “renting” fonts.

    With all said, I should also say that this is all speculation and I’m waiting for final word when the service is released.

  16. I’m glad that there are groups striving to find a solution to the @font-face problem, but I dont think Typekit is it. As I read their introductory blurb, all I could see was potential problems; what if Typekit goes under after I’ve used their fix in a few dozen client websites? What if the type foundries my fonts are from pull out of their agreement with Typekit? Servers going down? Javascript disabled? My clients aren’t going to blame Typekit if things go wrong, they’re going to blame me.
    Typekit seems to be asking us to replace a problematic solution (sIFR, Cufon) with a new solution with a different set of problems.
    Its a noble effort but I dont think the potential risks will be sufficiently mitigated. Hopefully the Typekit folks will come out with comforting words that changes all of this. But I kind of doubt it.

  17. I completely agree, it seems like a weired step to pay twice for a font, first for using it on the desktop, then renting it out for the web.

    I’m guessing some fine tuning will happen as they launch and start to get feedback, but currently renting out a font file for the web doesn’t seem to interest me…

  18. I re-read your article, just to be sure that you are actually *asking* for DRM’ed fonts.
    Although I agree that TypeKit can only be a temporary solution (one of several) and clearly has its limitations and hurdles, the solution you suggest will stand even less chance to survive. What good has DRM ever brought us? I can’t even remember how many times I had to re-install my perfectly legal copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite because of problems with it’s mysterious DRM. All while *some* people I know never ever had these problems with their ‘free’ versions. DRM just adds a layer of complexity for the people who use it, while people who ignore it have all the fun.
    How can we ask for DRM on our type when DRM on music is clearly on it’s way out and DRM on movies is clearly not stopping anyone from illegally downloading them.
    DRM is only there to give producers and distributors a false sense of safety. And that’s why it will never last.

  19. @Peter: I may have been a little off in my phrasing.

    I’m not asking for DRM on my typefaces per se. But rather some form of encryption or other hurdle to prevent the typeface from simply being downloaded from my server. The typefaces we link to for @font-face have the single purpose of rending type in the browser, and don’t need to be wholly accessible for other purposes.

    I couldn’t agree with you more concerning DRM in general, as I said in my post.

  20. Great thoughts here- I’m in agreement. I think a more realistic solution to this would be for font designers and typography crafters to release their fonts under an extended license that grants the purchaser rights to use their fonts on the web. This license would cost considerably more, but would ensure that the creatives responsible for these fonts get their due payment.

    Trying to control this is impossible- it just is. You will always have individuals who refuse to pay for the font just as you have individuals who rip stock art, music, videos, etc on the web. Is it right? Absolutely not, but at least by offering a license for those of us who value the creative time that goes into producing an element of design like typography we can legally throw in our support to that industry by dutifully purchasing an extended web license.

    The extended license could even require you to submit a web address on which the font would be used, that way tracking the license purchase would be easier from a legal perspective. I don’t think ‘renting’ fonts is the answer. It’s costly and ultimately is limiting to the industry. Typographers must now be introduced to the world of legalities and protecting their work just as photographers and musicians have had to do on the web. It’s a tough battle, but it does come with its perks: the greatest of this being that typography is about to take a giant leap towards the spotlight in web design.

  21. I think I came up with even better solution than typekit. How about instead of converting font files to some different encrypted format with javascript magic we convert them to files that are easily can be read even when javascript is disabled with all modern browsers on more than 95% of all machines. And you don’t have to host those files separate from you site. And you can use all the fonts you paid already for without any additional fees. I think that’s one step above typekit, right? Oh. Wait that’s SIFR. I thought that typekit was supposed to replace SIFR. Huh?

    I know FLash is not open, and so on. But the point is we are walking in circles here.

  22. Apropos of TypeKit. There is a new and serious proposal on the table for a web-specific font file format.
    The Proposal
    New Web Fonts Proposal Discussion On Typophile
    In-Depth Analysis: Apple and Microsoft In Talks On Web Font Protections

  23. So it seems that TypeKit will offer us the ability to link to font files hosted on their servers, okay, that’s a reasonable service. Clearly they won’t be placing the font files in a public accessible directory on the server. It’ll probably be similar to how one would install RoR or Django or some other application framework.

    I guess that’s something I (or we) could do on my own server(s). A simple PHP (or Perl, Python, Ruby, ASP, C, Java) script could access the file and we don’t need to rely on third party apps to help along.

  24. The typeface issue is certainly growing out of proportion. What was a great idea to give designers more functionality when using fonts, has become into a fearful mound of paranoia.

    Not only that, but I have no idea what licenses apply to which fonts I use, I have about a thousand. Am I going to remember which ones have a commercial license or not? No! There has to be a better way. Either TypeKit does it for us, or we do it ourselves and the typeface designers will have to live with the idea that their stuff could get stolen.

  25. This is quite a no-brainer since copyright of such things as typefaces will never be respected by common users and the common users that launch most websites on the internet quite easily outnumbers anyone that have some knowledge of typfaces and copyright.

    That + the fact that many typefaces actually can’t be protected from copy due to them being to similar to another creative work… well.. good luck in courts is all i say. :)

    Copyright on typefaces is doomed to fail miserably.

  26. Right now, designers pay a fee to license a font to use on their computers and generate artwork with — but can not legally embed the font itself in a web page, because their license doesn’t allow that.

    A bunch of people came up with an elegant solution that is 5% engineering and 95% negotiating with foundries, that will let people license fonts and make use of the @font-face css legally.

    And you’re complaining ?

    They didn’t create a layer of complexity, they just solved a whole shit-ton of complexity, by making it super-simple for you to use the fonts you want as plain text. If you don’t want to use it, then use font-face with free fonts, or use sifr/cufon/etc, or use standard fonts. This also addresses a likely reality that foundries will start to use spiders to find people using font-face on their websites, and suing folks who use theirs without license. DRM will always fail as a technology, but lawyers and greed never do, because they’re powered by basic and unending human greed.

    This team didn’t set out to solve an engineering problem of making fonts embeddable online, they set out to solve an existing legal issue, came up with an elegant solution, and got the support of the foundries.

  27. Annoying thing of Typekit is font blinking.