12 June 2008

[type_design] Bespoke Font Follies Take In Both Oregon And Britain



Copyright and font licensing questions compel a British "quango" to pay for a custom job and raise eyebrows here in electoral-season Oregon.

(Microsoft Typography, et. al.) The word bespoke in the term bespoke font refers, essentially, to a custom job. We borrow the term from British English, where the word originated on Savile Row; a bespoke suit is male couture custom made for the customer, not from a pattern. If a group pays for a font to be made, that font belongs to them.

Why would an organization pay for a font to be specifically made for them? It saves money, for one thing.

In the UK there is a Quasi-Non Governmental Organization (or quango) called the British Council. They recently commissioned, as part of thier branding strategy, the creation of a specific font to be owned by them and to be used in their identity. This font, called "British Council Sans", looks something like this:

It looks a bit as though Gill Sans and Myriad got together and had a kid. Not all that bad looking really. Now, this font cost the British Council (which is involved with promoting Britain somehow ... which seems strange, if you ask us, Britain's always just kind of sold itself. Worcestershire sauce, I mean, what else do you need?) the rather royal sum of ... GBP 50,000.

That's almost $98,000, kids. Wish I could have gotten that contract, let me tell you.

This has of course caused a bit of a row (as they say there) amongst some critical groups which say that there are plenty of good fonts available for free, which shows what they know about design (not much) and font licensing (even less). Because, as a spokesman for the Council put it:

The decision to commission a bespoke font saved the British Council over GBP 500,000. 'Without a bespoke font, every user and every supplier in the 110 countries we operate in worldwide would have had to buy legal versions of the Century Schoolbook and Univers fonts previously used.

That's nearly a cool US million (at today's rates) saved, kids. And the fellow isn't just blowing sunshine up your skirt. Just because, for example, I have a license to use a font, if I subcontract with someone to work on a project with me, they are not necessarily authorized to use it. They may have to buy it too.

Send a treasure token, token / Write it on a pound note, pound note, as the noted philosopher Adam Ant once said.

Here in the Beaver State, what may well be the use of a similarly bespoke font has become something of an embarrassment to a certain republican fighting to retain his US Senate seat right now. Senator Gordon Smith's campaign logo and materials have used a clever visual trick where the OR in the name GORDON is reversed out from a green Oregon outline.

The trouble is, the font used looks a great deal like the distinctive font used by the University of Oregon for its athletic programs ... but, as Kari Chisholm over at Blue Oregon asks, you be the judge:

Well, you know, we report; you decide. The Smith campaign denied it out-of-hand, of course, but none the less, the front page of his site at GordonSmith.com looks like this now:

The news broken at Blue Oregon has been tipped in the newsfeed over at Microsoft Typography, so, good on you guys.

All of which should reinforce the idea of font licensing. It's not just a good idea; it's the law. If you're sloppy about it, it'll cost you; if not a ton of money, at least a bit of embarrassment.

Tags: , , , ,

Powered by Qumana


zrharc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stan said...

[commented under the wrong login, oops]

Sam, I'll be honest - if I hadn't read this post before seeing the Smith campaign logo for the first time, I wouldn't have made the association to the University of Oregon. And it's not for lack of UO exposure, either. I probably would have figured it was a stretched Handel Gothic. (1980-90's Pepsi logo, anyone?)

I don't think the Smith campaign is conspiring to fool voters into believing that the University is endorsing him for Senate re-election. After all, every campaign logo in the country uses somebody's font. Is Barack Obama's campaign website subconsciously telling us that Crest toothpaste, USA Network and scores of others are endorsing him for president because they are all using the new, trendy, ubiquitous Gotham font?

The intellectual property lawyer quoted in Rachel Bachman's O story said that fonts have never been copyrightable. And I agree with him. So let's not worry about it. Let's look at the real ripoffs, like all of those unlicensed "Calvin peeing" window stickers, the sales of which have netted Bill Waterson exactly $0 in royalties.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.