12 June 2008

[graphic_design, or_politik] Gordon Smith Fontgate!


Just a few more thoughts on the UO/El Gordo Logo imbroglio. Promise.

We found that, happily, we've recieving inbound linkage from The Big O's "Playbooks and Profits" web column by Brent Hunsberger (look for the words a design blog) and The Big O's Ducks blog (where a link to this missive appears in a sidebar box) in an entry by Rachel Bachmann.

Thanks for the links, folks. Prepare to see your inbound traffic increase by as much as half a visitor a day. But, moreover, I'd like to give due thanks to The O for calling this humble establishment a design blog.

You see, people.I told you this was a design blog! I told you!

Anyway, this may or may not be the proverbial intersection of tempest and teapot (or, in American, a cyclone in a coffemaker). But as a type geek I'm not allowed to let this pass without making a few more comments. Here we go:

Whose IP Is It, Anyway?

The word copyright gets thrown around quite a bit these days, and sometimes gets used in situations where it doesn't belong. I, as they say, are not a lawyer, so I doubtless have contributed in my own tiny way to that confusion.

One thing I don't think I'm confused on, though, is the issue of licensee rights, at least as far as the general concept goes. When you use a font on your computer or in your design, you have to have the right to use it. And, as will no doubt surprised a great many people, just like the software you run, you don't actually own the file. You've purchased the right to use them. You are a licensee.

Most font licenses extend rights for use to the user. When a designer uses a typically-commercially available font, they have a right to use it to create their designs and, when necessary, send a copy of those files to a service bureau so that they can use them in the printing. InDesign and QuarkXPress both have warning dialogs you must dismiss to remind you of this.

What I can't do, as a designer, is, say, give away my copy of Adobe Garamond Pro for someone else to use at will. They have to buy the font (that is to say, the right to use it) themselves. If I send someone project files with the fonts is a service-bureau-type relationship, they are probably okay to use it only as far as the scope of the project goes, but they can't copy the font files, install them on their systems, and use them for whatever they want to.

Let's assume, for the moment only, and only for the sake of argument, that the font in Senator Smith's "OR" logo is the Belloti font used by the UO and designed for them by Nike. The University of Oregon owns rights to the font, according to Jay Jones at the Duck Sports News Blog:

You see, here’s the thing about this logo: the University of Oregon owns it. Even though the “Mike Bellotti” font (”Bellotti Bold” might be its proper name), as it’s called within the Athletics Department, was designed by Nike, it belongs the the UO. There might be others out there like it (Eurostile, Blair, Bank Gothic, & Serpentine), but there’s only one “Oregon” font.

If the Smith logo font is the same one as the Ducks' then the Smith campaign could use it ... so long as they bought the rights to using it from the UO. This is exactly the thing that happens when you buy fonts on line. However, UO is famously restrictive about who helps themselves to that identity:

Here’s one other thing about the font: for designers working with the UO, getting it is a bit of a Holy Grail. Only a few at the Casanova Center have it. Just try getting a hold of it. Good luck. Believe me. Because I’ve tried. And then try using it and see if you don’t get a call from the Trademark Management office.

So, if it is UO's proprietary font, then Smith's campaign would be in a civil liability zone. There's been speculation that the University should bring action against it. The likelihood of UO doing anything about it, however, is low, as The O's Rachel Bachmann reports;

Matt Dyste, Oregon's director of brand management, seemed neither flattered nor flummoxed by the campaign's choice. He noted the similarity in Smith's lettering to Oregon's typeface but said it "probably isn't" an issue for the university.

The thing about a perceived transgression like this is that, if the party perceived as damaged here (the UO) doesn't particularly see a problem or a big deal, they probably won't take it to court. In a society where everyone can sue over anything, sometimes, nobody is particularly obliged to sue. If there is damage, there's probably not enough for the University to care or worry about.

But is it Belotti Bold?

What Font Is It Anyway?

A casual glance at the Smith logo (here's where I've posted it) sure does suggest that it's the same thing ... or maybe very very close. Maybe the one informed the other.

A commenter in the Blue Oregon comment thread suggested it was a font called Handel Gothic. I looked at it too, and I have to admit ... it's close, very close ... but, as they say, close – but no cigar. Compare the capital Rs. The leg on the front of the R and the stroke on the middle cross stroke display an almost Gill Sans-like curving. Those parts of the R in the Oregon logo and the Smith logo are both very straight – no curves, and make the strongest case for a design ripoff.

Moreover, there's a straightness to the sides of the O that neither the Smith logo nor Handel Gothic share.

I also tried uploading this to the public service site What The Font?, but results were inconclusive. WTF? suggested five fonts, clearly none of which were the font in question.

About the only thing we can say for sure of the font used in the Smith branding is that we can say what it looks very much like, but we can't say for sure exactly what it is.

So What?

This would just grace the pages of reader-hungry design blogs if it weren't for the fact that Senator Smith's branding belongs to a republican US Senator whose hold on his seat is perhaps not as solid as he'd hoped. Since it's a facet of a political campaign, however, an enormous amount of motives have gotten read into it. Some feel that it's an insincere attempt to moderate up Smith's image; some find it a succinct statement of the way he does his business.

So a lot of us comment on it, and cast our aspirations thereon.

I often quip that a little design goes a long way. See what this little bit of design has done for all of us? This is one reason why design is so much damn' fun.

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Anonymous said...

Interesting subject. You may also be interested in six videos I have recently posted on Youtube about UO branding and Nike issues. To find them go to the Youtube site and use the search there with keywords:nike university of oregon.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Thanks for the reccommendation. I'll go look them up and report on what I find!