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Businesses Piracy The Almighty Buck The Courts

Font Maker Sues Universal Music Over 'Pirated' The Vamps Logo (torrentfreak.com) 142

An anonymous reader writes: Universal Music Group is being sued by HypeForType, which accuses the record label of using "pirated" copies of its fonts for the logo of The Vamps. The font is widely used for artwork, promotion material and merchandising of the popular British band, and the font creator is looking for a minimum of $1.25 million in damages. The font maker has filed a lawsuit accusing the major label of using its "Nanami Rounded" and "Ebisu Bold" fonts without permission. According to a complaint, filed in a New York federal court, Universal failed to obtain a proper license for its use, so they are essentially using pirated fonts.
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Font Maker Sues Universal Music Over 'Pirated' The Vamps Logo

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  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @02:45PM (#54927657) Homepage Journal

    "But our piracy is different! We're a big corporation, we're allowed to do this!!!"

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @02:49PM (#54927697)

      You know, since they have this one act of piracy.. we should just assume their whole business model is piracy based. We should seize their domain and prevent them from doing business in the future.. you know, just like the RIAA/MPAA wants to do to anyone else.

    • came here to say this. love seeing the shoe on the other foot for a change. serves them right.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      use those laws they lobbied so hard for against them.... $250,000 fine per infraction. looks like they have at least 500,000 album sales, and probably similar numbers of digital downloads and singles, so be generous and call it a million.

      that will be $250,000,000,000, please.

      go fuck yourself on the way out.

    • They should do what Microsoft did when it came out that some .wav files in c:\windows and c:\windows\system32 where made with a cracked version of cubase. They just said that it was made by a contractor.
  • Live by the DMCA...die by the DMCA
    • Please don't tempt them. Ever since it was shown that Google et al have survived thanks to safe harbor provisions, that's been a target. Anything to prompt them to lobby against it more than they currently are is a bad idea, imho.

    • Live by the DMCA...die by the DMCA

      What DMCA? Has nothing whatsoever to do with this case. Unless you know that the font was somehow protected through encryption and they illegally decrypted it.

      This is (allegedly) a case of copyright infringement.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @03:04PM (#54927833) Journal
    Is he claiming each letter is one count of violation? Like RIAA typically does?
    • by thaylin ( 555395 )

      No, he is just asking for all the profits made from its use.

    • Not just one count. They published a load of material with these letters illegaly, and this material has been seen by many people as a result. Fans have copied and republished these fonts. All these views count as subsequent "downloads" which are the result of the label's acts of piracy. So they are on the hook not just for a single font license but for hundreds of thousands of them, perhaps millions. So it would be fair to claim damages of, say, 5 times the GDP of the UK, but of course this is then se
      • Not just one count. They published a load of material with these letters illegaly, and this material has been seen by many people as a result. Fans have copied and republished these fonts. All these views count as subsequent "downloads" which are the result of the label's acts of piracy. So they are on the hook not just for a single font license but for hundreds of thousands of them, perhaps millions.

        Nonsense. One font = one work = $30,000 or proven damages, whichever is higher. For statutory damages, the number of illegal copies and the value of the work doesn't count.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Universal designed the logo. Some graphic design firm did, and they may or may not have had a suitable licence, (my guess is not, but basically "prove it.")

    While I'm all for rooting for the little guy, the idea of maintaining some "chain of custody" for every typeface used in a piece of work, which may incorporate material and logos from dozens of different brands is beyond impractical. Especially when for the most part fonts "just work" for nearly all people, nearly all of the time unless they've got the n

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I work at a design firm (not affiliated with this at all) and we have a group that just deals with licensing so this sort of thing doesn't happen.

      • I do a little graphics design for indie bands and most of the time they bring me hand drawn logos or album covers. I create vector fonts for those as close to the hand drawn as I can for them because often times they will want something else later in the same font.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      Then maybe we should just drop the whole "intellectual property" facade and let everyone copy everything perfectly legally?
      If you think it's too onerous to follow the rules that you spent millions of dollars lobbying for, then I don't think you'll find much sympathy.

    • RTFA
  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @03:11PM (#54927887)

    Since font shapes cannot be copyrighted, they will have a tough time proving that their own ttf file (which can be copyrighted) was used unlawfully. If universal claimed the font was not the font maker's font, I suppose they could demand to see the ttf file, and probably a judge would go along with it. And who's to say that universal couldn't have asked a third party to make the logo who had access to the font ttf file.

    • by sremick ( 91371 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @03:25PM (#54928007)

      Since font shapes cannot be copyrighted, they will have a tough time proving that their own ttf file (which can be copyrighted) was used unlawfully. .

      I know that RTFA isn't popular on /. but come on. It says right there that the designer did pay for a license for the font, but it wasn't one that permitted commercial usage.

      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        Do you think Universal will let you take some of their "Intellectual property" that was licensed only for home use and play it commercially without complaint? They've certainly gone after enough people for exactly that in the past. Hard to feel sorry for them when they're on the other end of the exact same situation.

      • So if I buy a DVD, I should be able to have a public screening of it right? I did pay for a license didn't I, just not the right one.

        I personally think most copyright is just ridiculous, and this was probably just using the font in a reasonable manner, and $1.25 million is insane. But when the same people doing it, sue people for more for doing less, it hard not to get joy out of it, hope they lose, learn there lesson and the laws change. The last two are not very likely though.

        • by Altrag ( 195300 )

          No, that's the point.

          The fact that the designer purchased a license pretty much derails the argument that it was done by coincidence (though I'm not sure such an argument would hold up.. but hard to say since I imagine two people independently coming up with an identical creative work of any substance is unlikely enough that its probably never been tried.)

          Then the fact that they purchased the wrong license means that the license purchase itself is not a defense. So they can't claim coincidence nor can they

    • Their fonts are software which is licensed and protected by copyright law.

      Nothing to do with tiff files

      • ttf, not tiff.

        Maybe you need a clearer font!

      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Actually it has everything to do with the ttf files and the use thereof. Like I said, the font's actual, rendered shape cannot be copyrighted. The ttf file, being a computer program, can and is copyrighted, as you say. But can this copyright extend to the final rendering? No it can't. However the font company can still claim the use of the ttf file for this logo breached their contract with the user of the font.

        So this is at best a licensing/contract dispute, not a copyright issue. At least in a perfect

    • Since font shapes cannot be copyrighted, they will have a tough time proving that their own ttf file (which can be copyrighted) was used unlawfully.

      And proving it was used unlawfully will be all but impossible if it was ever sold to the public. Even if Universal doesn't have a license for the font files (ttf, otf, or whatever) they may have contracted a designer who does have such a license. And even if the designer was using the font without a license, it is the designer they could sue, not Universal, unless Universal had knowledge in which case they could be liable for contributory infringement.

      • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

        Since font shapes cannot be copyrighted, they will have a tough time proving that their own ttf file (which can be copyrighted) was used unlawfully.

        And proving it was used unlawfully will be all but impossible if it was ever sold to the public. Even if Universal doesn't have a license for the font files (ttf, otf, or whatever) they may have contracted a designer who does have such a license. And even if the designer was using the font without a license, it is the designer they could sue, not Universal, unless Universal had knowledge in which case they could be liable for contributory infringement.

        Proving it is easy since the designer bought a license for the font for the project. Universal distributed the work, and probably holds copyright on it as a work-for-hire, so yea, they sue Universal, then it's up to Universal to go after the 3rd party designer. If the contracts for this type of work are anything like they are for a screen play, the designer is up shit's creek here as they should have know they used the wrong license.

        • So let's say I use a pirate copy of Photoshop to design an image for Universal. Universal then can be sued by Adobe for stealing of Photoshop? No.

          A font file is a program. Any images that it creates are still owned by the user - typefaces are not copyrightable.

          Designing a logo that's converted to outlines is a single violation - of a software license agreement (the font program). All future uses of that logo have nothing to do with the font company and are not damages. I don't care what the terms of th

          • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
            Actually, in some cases yes, they can be sued by Adobe. It depends on the relationship they have with the designer. If the designer is working for them as a contract employee it's entirely possible for the company to go after them as the employer. Since most companies like Universal like to exploit the US laws that allow for works-for-hire to give them (as opposed to the creator) copyright ownership, the relationship with the people who create works for them can get a little tangled up.
  • So now, the music labels will find a loophole that allows them to use other people's IP without permission or payment.

    Then, inevitably, someone else will use this same strategy against them,

    And that whole house of cards, built on a sandbar, could come tumbling down.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No. Only corporations with money can use the loopholes. YOU don't matter, nor do you have enough money to exploit the loopholes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't make the monetary demand any less absurd because it is not the RIAA/MPAA filing the suit. Used without proper licensing? Yes, give reasonable damages. Not 100X more than what it would cost to hire and buy a font outright from an experienced typographer.

    • Still is no different than RIAA/MPAA suing for $150,000 for each MP3 which would cost $0.99 to purchase.
    • If a punishment is not significantly worse than doing the right thing, it's pointless.

    • Doesn't make the monetary demand any less absurd because it is not the RIAA/MPAA filing the suit.

      It's a member of the MPAA being sued. As far as I see if you pay for a crazy law to be passed to make yourself richer you deserve to suffer under it.

  • While fonts themselves can be copyrighted, the typeface itself that is rendered by a font cannot be. So it is, in fact, entirely possible to create a lookalike font to a copyrighted font without infringing on the copyright on the latter as long as the lookalike font itself was not actually copied from the the copyrighted font.

    In general (but not always), this means that the lookalike font was created from samples of text that use the original font, specifically text that only a utilizes a subset of the

    • If I was Universal and I was feeling vindictive, I'd pay someone to clone every single one of the fonts on that site and then release them Creative Commons.

    • I agree. This also means that the damages should be limited to the one infringing use of the font program (ttf) to create the logo. Derivatives of the output are not the same as derivatives from the code, so using that logo everywhere does not constitute a derivative work.

      Font licensing is a huge racket. Output from a non-commercial use of the font could later be monetized and it would only violate the EULA post-hoc. Tell me how any other software program can get away with licensing like that?

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        Pretty much all software programs "get away with that." If I download a program under a "free for private use" license, and then 6 months later I start a business well guess what -- I can't (legally) use that software for my business unless I turn around and purchase a commercial license.

        Similar for the font case. If you use a font with a non-commercial license for a non-commercial product and then you commercialize it later.. go buy yourself a commercial license. The fact that whatever you designed with

        • can't (legally) use that software for my business unless I turn around and purchase a commercial license.

          Right, but this is more like you create a Word document (using Home edition Office) and never open Word again. Then sell that Word document to someone else later. Without opening Word again.

          The actual artwork doesn't necessarily contain the font program (embedded ttf). If it just contains an image of the letterform or a drawing of it, you're no longer actually using the font program when you reuse the output.

          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            Sort of.. but sort of not. In the Word example, the person you're selling it to would have to have a licensed copy of Word. So you're more kind of shifting the licensing question rather than removing it (we'll exclude the fact that they can use OpenOffice or whatever and avoid the whole issue -- you could have done that as well.)

            Obviously that kind of shifting wouldn't work for fonts (companies haven't found a way to license our own eyeballs back to us yet) but I think the parallels can still be drawn eve

            • In the Word example, the person you're selling it to would have to have a licensed copy of Word

              Or the free Word viewer. Or you create a PDF file from Word.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Fuck you, fish tits!

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @05:22PM (#54928915) Homepage

    This seems to me like a compelling argument for never licensing a commercial font, and just using the large and growing pool of free fonts.

    Much as my personal policy for software is that if there is FOSS that can solve my problem, I try to use that even if there is something better that costs money. I don't even want to have to keep track of how many copies I have installed, how many backups I have made, etc.

    That "Vamps" logo is pretty straightforward, and I'll bet it wouldn't be that hard to find some free font that would look about as nice.

    Another good option: pay a free-lance artist (or even an art-college student) to design the logo, with a clear contract saying there will be no royalties.

    As others have noted, the music labels are in the business of charging royalties and it's stupid for one to step on a licensing landmine like this.

    • by xlsior ( 524145 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @05:34PM (#54929015) Homepage
      One minefield with 'free' fonts is that there are countless Fonts on 'free' websites that aren't really free, but merely have the copyright info stripped from the headers and been republished countless of times on 'free font' cd collections over the past 25 years, shrouding their true origins in many cases. The font website owner may think they are free, but that doesn't necessarily make it so...
      • by steveha ( 103154 )

        there are countless Fonts on 'free' websites that aren't really free, but merely have the copyright info stripped from the headers and been republished countless of times on 'free font' cd collections over the past 25 years, shrouding their true origins

        That's extremely interesting and a problem. Now it make more sense to me why someone would license a commercial font.

        It seems that someone should make a project similar to Project Gutenberg but for fonts: provide a central clearing-house of free fonts, but h

    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      I don't see how that follows.. they failed to get a commercial license and are now being sued for it so your solution is to.. not use the font at all? Rather than paying the $100 license fee? I can almost guarantee you that any freelance font designer will be charging more than $100 for their time. Even a college student will likely cost you more than $100.

      The only tricky part in this whole shebang is that there's a third party involved -- the designer -- and UMG wasn't paying enough attention to the lic

  • Iirc, while a font (the .TTF file with the instructions for the computer on how to draw the font) can be copyrighted, a typeface (the visual representation of the font) cannot... So unless they were including the TTF files as part of digital downloads, they may be in the clear?
  • They have no case. Fonts are not copyrightable. Only font files.

  • Instead of using people's tax dollars for courts, can't they just settle on a shared profit percentage??

If you had better tools, you could more effectively demonstrate your total incompetence.

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