Commentary on issue of DMCA and font embedding permissions
Author of books on cryptography and open source software responds to online debate

16 May 2002

Editor's Note: Recently on Politech, Declan McCullagh's popular mailing list on politics and technology, a software developer reported receiving "cease-and-desist" communication from Agfa alleging that a simple software tool he developed for changing the internal flag on fonts he created so they could be embedded is in violation of the DMCA. Tom Murphy's post triggered a series of opinionated responses -- including one from Agfa -- on the Politech list, and spawned threads on Slashdot and elsewhere, too. In the ensuing Politech debate, Peter Wayner, an author of books on cryptography and open source software, vented about the law's impact by sharing a personal experience in trying to resolve an Acrobat font problem. Understanding how fonts are handled in PDF remains one of the more confusing and misunderstood aspects of the technology. With Wayner's permission, we're re-publishing his posting in that spirit -- that others may have had to, or may soon, deal with a similar PDF fonts situation. How they choose to resolve certain kinds of problems may expose them to charges of violating new laws like the DMCA, or even stricter ones currently being considered.

To: POLITECH
From: Peter Wayner pcw2@flyzone.com
Subject: Re: FC: Agfa DMCA debate: Charles Platt vs. Matt Deatherage

I enjoyed the exchange. This just verifies what I've always though: The DMCA hurts the artists and the content-creation professionals the most because they're the ones who must cut and paste to make a living. The rest of the world can go do something else if the VCR/DVD refuses to work.

This was brought home to me one day when I spent an entire afternoon trying to change a semi-colon to a colon in a document I prepared. Why did it take so long? Because I created a Acrobat file and mailed it to a friend. Then the computer crashed and destroyed the original document. No problem, I thought. I'll just change the Acrobat file. I own the pro version of Acrobat which allows editing. "Not so fast, Font Pirate!" said Acrobat. Apparently the font I used couldn't be found. When I rebuilt the system file, it was missing.

I don't buy fonts. I'm not that sophisticated. It ended up on my disk because some software package gave it to me. Which one? I still have no freaking idea. There was no way I was going to spend an afternoon reinstalling every piece of software. Who knows where it came from? It might have been installed by a sample I download and then deleted and forgot.

In the end, I was able to hack around this by extracting the Postscript from Acrobat, editing the postscript file and re-distilling it. It took me four hours to come up with this solution.

Now I'm bitter about Adobe and I have deliberately begun avoiding my lawfully owned products like Photoshop, Acrobat, and InDesign. This was building after I discovered that their secret surveillance software kept crashing my Mac. The products are great, but open source alternatives have their advantages too. In the past, I would stick with Adobe because of their quality. Now I shun them because I'm worried that I'll be abandoned and falsely accused in my hour of need. Open source code doesn't do that.

The Content Czars seem to think that we're all just a bunch of pirating fiends out here who can't wait to make a copy of something, anything, right away. Hah. I'm just trying to get my job done. There's no way I'm going to buy professional grade Agfa or Adobe fonts now. There's no way I'm going to buy Fontographer either. I don't need their quality and they just seem to be a big hassle. There are plenty of free fonts that are good enough and easier to use.

Two new books:


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