Font embedding survey

Thomas Phinney, Adobe’s Product Manager for Fonts & Global Typography has posted a survey asking typical Web designers/developers what they think of the different solutions for fonts on the Web.

The survey arose from discussion around potential implementations of @font-face. Thomas is in favour of this being in CSS, but is very much against the Webkit implementation which requires site owners to host TrueType files, preferring instead Microsoft’s approach of supporting encrypted, DRM’d embedded OpenType (EOT) files. It’s worth filling out the survey, but bear in mind Thomas’s bias.

It seems to me that whether the end results uses an EOT approach or otherwise, most of the discussion is of making technology fit around existing font licenses. I understand this being a practical approach (so designers wouldn’t have to get new licenses), but it does seem to shout out that the font vendors should be creating a new license or licenses that reflects what designer want to actually to with the fonts, ie. have them embeddable in web pages or not.

Considering that the font vendors are supposedly so concerned about the advent of widely supported web font embedding, they seem to be doing next to nothing to proactively engage in the discussion. Web designers are font vendors’ customers too – I would have thought it would be a good idea to listen and act upon their customers’ desires.

In the comments, it’s worth noting Ralf Herrmann pointed out Hoefler & Frere-Jones coverage of @font-face in their EULA:

The emerging @font-face tag within Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) will hopefully lead to a secure technology that allows fonts to be used in web pages. But at this time, no such security measures exist, so the use of this tag with our fonts constitutes the illegal distribution of the font software. This type of use is therefore specifically prohibited under our End-User License Agreement.

As Thomas Phinney commented, at least they’re explicit about it, although it still smacks of burying one’s head in the ground and hoping the problem will go away, instead of proactively trying to find a solution to their customers’ needs. (See Jonathan Hoefler’s response.)

Update. Thomas has posted the survey results. In essence (and not all that surprising) designers want to use whatever fonts they wish, especially fonts they use elsewhere, and not have licenses restrict them to free fonts, or a severely limited selection. The other aspect to the survey showed a limited, but significant adherence to licenses but also a willingness to use any font that worked especially if the license was unclear. As I’ve said before, the foundries are at the mercy of software manufacturers in terms of technology, but licenses are down to foundries and they should all be thinking proactively about the future, and not in a unsustainable knee-jerk music industry way – see my reply to Jonathan Hoefler.

Jonathan Hoefler: I agree with everything above. Most of the things that I create these days are for screens rather than presses, and I’m as eager as anyone to find a solution to the situation because I’d like to see our fonts used as widely as possible!

Please understand, though, that as serious as we are about type design, foundries like mine simply aren’t in the driver’s seat when it comes to technology. We manufacture fonts in established formats, and test them in industry-standard environments, and we’re very much at the mercy of the software industry to make it possible for people to make use of our work. I’m as involved as anyone in lobbying for a progressive solution (I plied Tom Phinney with pancakes last time he was in New York), but until it arrives I’ll be right there on the sidelines waiting with fingers crossed.

Me: Thanks very much for the comment Jonathan. I can absolutely understand that foundries like yours are at the mercy of the software industry, so I’m really pleased you’re involved in looking for a progressive solution.

The danger to the type design industry is to be perceived as major record labels in the music industry, continually swimming upstream in an attempt to lock everything down instead of going with the flow, accepting the desires and needs of customers and moving with them, not against them.

So I think it’s really important that foundries publicly recognise the desire for web fonts in one form or another, and that they can be seen to be helping move things in that direction.