MWJ Commentary on Acrobat PDF Font Embedding Issues
Conclusion: 'Which company do you want to support?'

16 October 2002

The Weekly Attitudinal™: Type Rights and Wrong
-- Agfa-Adobe squabble hints at type casting
Copyright 2002, GCSf, Incorporated (

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the 2002.10.05 issue of MWJ, the ad-free, subscription-based weekly journal for serious Macintosh users, available in both PDF and text formats. Get a free sample page in PDF from the current week's issue and/or try a free three-week trial subscription!

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Oh, the commentariat chuckled last month when Adobe announced it could be going to court defending itself against violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - the same law the company used a year ago to have an international programmer arrested solely because it could. "Hee hee," they said, "this is delicious." "Serves them right," said the online civil libertarians, and they were correct, as the Attitudinal will explain somewhere around the third trimester of this tome.

There's only one small problem: this time, Adobe's right.

While the punditocracy was giggling with irony, the Attitudinal smelled something more serious going on here, and started reading some license agreements. It turns out that one of the largest type foundries in the world has quietly started asserting rights to its fonts that it probably doesn't have.

You could be violating font licenses every time you make a PDF file, at least if you do something unreasonable like distribute it to anyone. Just because it's the "portable" document format doesn't mean you can pass that file around, buster!

Just as the advent of new media and a greater understanding of typography should make it a grand time for fonts, some of the biggest names in type are mired in the 1980s, wanting to restrict you from using their fonts for anything other than printing or making bitmap images. Using resolution-independent fonts to make resolution-independent documents is right out, and you didn't even know it. The Attitudinal, however, found out.

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The Tip of the Iceberg

Most of these outline antics have escaped public scrutiny, but a hint of the underlying drama poked through the surface in September. Adobe Systems announced that it had gone to court seeking declarative judgment in a font licensing dispute with Agfa-Gevaert, the German imaging conglomerate. Talk about yawn-inspiring! No one could possibly care about this, except maybe you.

Over the past fifteen years, Agfa has bought its way to becoming a major player in typography. In 1987, Agfa-Gevaert purchased long-time digital typographical firm Compugraphic Corporation, acquiring thousands of fonts in the process. The two companies also merged with medial imaging firm Matrix to form Agfa Corporation. Miles acquired Agfa in 1992 as its imaging division, staying as such when Miles renamed itself Bayer in 1995 after its most popular product, Bayer Aspirin. In 1997, Agfa acquired the century-old Monotype foundry, picking up thousands of the most used and desired fonts on the market.

In 1999, Agfa Corporation broke off from Bayer to become a part of the Agfa-Gevaert group in Germany. Agfa's entire typographic asserts were merged into a new wholly-owned subsidiary, the Agfa Monotype Corporation. In 2000, Agfa Monotype purchased the International Typeface Corporation (ITC), acquiring thousands more fonts. Today, Agfa Monotype is the 500-pound gorilla in the typographic market, controlling Monotype, ITC,, and lots more. Almost every commercial font today comes from Agfa Monotype, Linotype, or Adobe, with Bitstream and other foundries bringing up the rear. Agfa Monotype licenses hundreds of the fonts that other foundries sell, and creates the core Windows TrueType fonts that are hinted to within an inch of their lives for outstanding results on screen without using bitmap versions.

Agfa Monotype developed Microsoft's Web fonts, too, and may be part of the reason why those fonts are no longer available for free download.

Ah, yes, the dispute. In separate proceedings in San Jose and London, Adobe is seeking "declaratory relief" in a contract dispute with Agfa over font rights. ITC is a US corporation and is the subject of the San Jose action; Monotype was founded in London and Adobe is challenging it in English courts. In essence, Adobe is arguing with Agfa and asking a court to decide somewhat preemptively that Adobe is in the right, before one party alleges that the other has actually breached a contract. A declaratory judgment asks a court to declare (hence the term, of course) that one interpretation of the contract is correct.

The dispute is hard to pinpoint since Adobe and Agfa aren't making the contracts in question public, but according to Adobe's announcement, it's all about font embedding. Adobe wants the US and British courts to declare that its contracts with ITC and Monotype give Adobe "the right to permit its customers to embed ITC [and Monotype] fonts in electronic documents." An Adobe vice-president said, "Many years ago Adobe anticipated the shift to electronic documents. At that time, we obtained the embedding rights from our font partners necessary to permit the creation of electronic documents. We are now defending the rights we obtained for our customers to continue to conduct business in the electronic age."

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Learning to Embed

On the surface, this is almost certainly true. Adobe started work on what became Acrobat in the early 1990s, long before anyone anticipated a ubiquitous Internet or the Web's somewhat interesting idea of typography. Digital documents were the company's focus for years, arriving one small engineering milestone at a time. The first step was the Multiple Master font, a PostScript technology for rendering fonts between two hand-drawn outlines. Multiple Master fonts aren't hard to figure out: if you have a very skinny font and a very fat font, the control points for its curves (like you would see in Illustrator or FreeHand) are probably the same. If there are eight control points on a skinny "S", there are probably eight on a fat "S". They're just in different places - the skinny ones close to the center of the stroke, and the fat ones farther away.

When you demand a Multiple Master font instance halfway between the "skinny" and "fat" reference points, the PostScript software moves each control point on the "S" to the midpoint of a line segment between the skinny reference point and the fat reference point. (Don't panic - it's not trigonometry, very much. Get some graph paper and sketch it out if you want, or just take the Attitudinal's word for it. Or read about it in the technical specifications.) Once each control point is moved in such a fashion, the resulting glyph is "halfway" between skinny and fat. The same method applies for every axis in the font - height, weight, optical size, slant, retail price, whatever. Although incredibly useful in design, it was also the first step to digital documents - the first time PostScript could make good-looking fonts to fit an exact width or height.

Next was an important but long-forgotten step: SuperATM.

Suppose you have a word processing document that uses Times New Roman for its body text, and you want to send it to a colleague who has the same word processor but not the same font. SuperATM took Adobe's new Multiple Master technology one step further by including a database of hundreds of Adobe and third-party font metrics - the exact sizes of each glyph in popular typefaces. If your colleague had SuperATM installed, any time a program like a word processor needs a font you don't have, the program would synthesize a substitution font from two generic Adobe Multiple Master fonts (Adobe Sans MM and Adobe Serif MM), using the exact metrics of the missing font (Times New Roman in this case). The resulting view would not look like the original document, since the substitution font does not look like Times New Roman, but it would fit perfectly. Every glyph would be the same size, and no text would rewrap to the next line.

That created semi-portable documents - to view a document accurately, the recipient needed SuperATM and the software that created the document, but not the fonts it used. (It was also behind Adobe's desperate plea to developers to ask the system for every font they wanted even if they knew it wasn't installed - otherwise, SuperATM didn't get a chance to synthesize a substitute.) Meanwhile, back at the printer, PostScript itself could faithfully reproduce a document's graphics and exact glyph position, but needed fonts with the right metrics to reproduce the document itself. Combining SuperATM's technology with PostScript's document description produced the framework Adobe's electronic document grail, Acrobat. SuperATM and other early digital document initiatives all came out of the same "Carousel" project at Adobe, and that's why the Acrobat creator type was and is 'CARO'. Isn't that fascinating? Kind of?

These early electronic documents weren't very typographically refined. Unless the viewing computer had the right fonts installed, all the fonts in the electronic document were the substitute fonts from SuperATM technology - serviceable but not interesting, and not sufficient for companies like Apple or Adobe itself that have a strong typographical identity. Adobe knew from the start that Acrobat would need to embed real fonts, just as PostScript job files could embed font streams for faithful reproduction. Adobe added technology to include PostScript and TrueType glyphs in a PDF file, filling out the feature set for Acrobat 1.0.

This made font foundries extremely nervous, including Adobe's own type division. If a PDF file could include an entire high-quality Type 1 or TrueType font, it would be easy enough for enterprising hackers (or PostScript experts) to extract the font from the document and have a free copy of it. Since users already viewed fonts as less than software and passed them around too freely for the foundries' taste, the font makers wanted assurances Acrobat wouldn't lead to massive font piracy.

Adobe wasn't the only one working on digital documents, though. Apple was (in QuickDraw GX), as was IBM in OS/2. Through the front door or the back, a set of embedding bits evolved in the TrueType format, located in the 'OS/2' table inside the font. Various bits in that table control whether any glyphs of the font can be embedded in digital documents, or if glyphs can be embedded for viewing but not editing, or if the whole font can be included so that the recipient can edit the digital document (perhaps adding text that wasn't in the original). This is only tangentially related to subsetting a font, by the way. If you make a PDF document containing only the word "Apple" and embed the font in the PDF file, the only glyphs included are "A", "p", "l", and "e." Even if the font was embedded with editing privileges, you couldn't change it to read "Compaq" because the right glyphs aren't included. That'll teach you.

The Attitudinal's point is that embedding rights are different than the practical issue of using embedded fonts. Embedding a font doesn't mean you can use it to edit a document. Editing may work better if the font isn't embedded, and just because you managed to embed a font doesn't mean you had permission to do so.

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Adding Your Outlines

Oh, yes! Just as you may have a copy of a font that you didn't purchase, you may have purchased a font that allows embedding without having purchased the rights to embed that font in any digital documents. And you may not even know it! Embedding bits only tell applications whether to allow or deny embedding on a broad basis, not whether you have a legal copy of a font. Acrobat Distiller happily embeds fonts in PDF files if the embedding bits are set, even if you obtained those fonts by robbing the Linotype Factory Outlet at gunpoint with a CD burner.

It's the licensing agreement that allegedly controls what rights you do and do not have for fonts you've purchased. Adobe, for its part, wants you to feel free to embed any of its fonts in any document you want - Adobe knows that the #1 destination for embedded fonts is PDF files, even though Microsoft Office allows it as well, and embedding good fonts makes PDF files, and therefore Acrobat, more attractive. Adobe therefore gives you almost everything. The standard shrink-wrap software license for Adobe's fonts explains that you can use the fonts on up to five computers, back them up, install them on at least one printer, with the rest of the standard legal rigmarole. In section 2.6.5, however, Adobe explicitly allows embedding:

"You may embed the font software, or outlines of the font software, into your electronic documents to the extent that the font vendor copyright owner allows for such embedding. The fonts contained in this package may contain both Adobe and non-Adobe owned fonts. You may fully embed any font owned by Adobe."

Adobe only hints at the present dispute in its announcement, but the hints seem clear: several years ago, Adobe believes it negotiated the rights to allow full embedding of ITC and Monotype fonts in PDF documents, but Agfa now says this is not the case. It's not clear if Agfa expects more money from Adobe or from its customers to allow embedding its fonts. It is clear that Agfa is happy to sell you digital fonts as long as you don't actually try to use them in digital situations.

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Agfa's Font Dreams

Once you read Adobe's license agreement, provided you don't need a power nap, you may wonder how it differs from Agfa's standard end-user license agreement for its font products. You can find the agreements on either the ITC or Agfa Monotype sites. Both of them lead to special pages all about font embedding, and even though the ITC page and the Monotype page (at have different addresses and layouts, they contain the same text, adjusted only for the names "ITC" or "Agfa Monotype." Here's text from the ITC version of the page:

"ITC, like most other font foundries, licenses fonts for use on a set number of workstations. The typical font can be used on five (5) workstations, while a font library provides for use on up to twenty (20) workstations. Our End User license does not permit redistribution of font data beyond the set number of workstations without an additional license. Because of the introduction of font embedding, font streaming and font server technologies, and the use of embedded fonts into commercial products, ITC is introducing reasonably-priced font licenses for designers and publishers."

The page goes on to describe four new font licenses. The "editable embedding" license is for fonts you want to embed in documents that are editable by the recipient, something that applies more to Microsoft Office documents than PDF files. The "Commercial Product Font Embedding License" for embedding fonts in any document that is "sold to end users," with given examples of "newsletters, reports, eBooks, eMagazines, etc. distributed commercially on CD-ROM or on the Internet," but that would seem to include PDF product manuals in for-sale software and shareware as well, since you're "selling" the document as part of the product.

One new Internet license provides rights to use an Agfa font with technologies that download the font to a client computer and allow editing, like Microsoft's WEFT, Bitstream's TrueDoc, or Flash applications. A second Internet license allows keeping fonts on a server where multiple clients can use them to "create new documents or images, or edit content with font data that resides on the server." An easy example is Apple's iCards application, where fonts like Copperplate Gothic and Comic Sans live on the iCards server, and a WebObjects application uses them to add text to cards, making a "new image" that's mailed to your card's recipient.

The Attitudinal encourages you to stop here for a moment and consider the absolute idiocy of the text on Agfa's page: "Our End User license does not permit redistribution of font data beyond the set number of workstations without an additional license." Since most font licenses are good for five workstations, Agfa is saying that if you embed a font into a digital document of any kind, you're only legally allowed to send that document to the five workstations licensed for the font - the exact same workstations that don't need you to embed the font since they're already licensed to use the font anyway.

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Bit by Embedded Bit

This is not Agfa's first brush this year with embedding restrictions. The subject came up earlier this year on Declan McCullagh's Politech mailing list, again via an interesting claim on Agfa's part. That discussion included contributions by the Attitudinal's publisher (he thinks he's sooooo clever, particularly here and here), which the Attitudinal happily appropriates.

The problem came about when Agfa used the big stick of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on Tom Murphy VII, who goes by "Tom 7," a freeware font developer. Murphy developed his fonts with Macromedia Fontographer, an editor released before the embedding bits of TrueType fonts were defined as they are today. Fontographer provides font developers with a choice of embedding permissions, but it does not set the bits properly in the resulting TrueType font file. Instead, Fontographer usually creates bits that are completely invalid as font embedding permissions, and never sets the bits the way you think it should. Fontographer provides no way to change these bits to valid settings. None. It can't be done with Fontographer. You must remember this point: every TrueType font built with Fontographer has problems, regardless of the font developer's intentions, because programs like Acrobat Distiller conservatively treat invalid embedding rights as no embedding rights. [NOTE: Adobe corrected this with an update to Acrobat Distiller 4.] Now, in some cases, Fontographer does generate bits that allow embedding, but it's purely by accident.

Rather than try to edit his fonts to include the least restrictive embedding rights - the setting he intended all along - Murphy wrote embed, a Windows program that finds the appropriate bits in the "OS/2" table of a TrueType font and sets them to zero. He placed both the program and its source in the public domain, and specifically noted on the distribution page, "Changing the embedding value does not give you license to distribute the fonts. You should only change this setting if you are the font creator, or something like that. Use at your own risk." Remember, the tools Murphy used to make his fonts would not allow him - the font creator - to set the embedding bits as he chose, so he wrote his own tool and distributed it so other font creators could have the same capability.

Five years later, an Agfa Monotype lawyer wrote to Murphy (insert your own "Murphy's Law" joke here) and demanded that he withdraw the program from distribution, apparently under the belief that knowledge placed in the public domain can somehow be withdrawn. ("Linda? It's Monica. Can you call the press and tell them to drop this story?") Attorney Paul F. Stack wrote, "The distribution of this program, whether for free or for a fee, infringes my client's federal copyrights in their TrueType programs." Murphy wrote back to note that his program and page included absolutely no Agfa copyrighted material, rejecting the demand to withdraw the programs. Stack didn't write back for two and a half months, but when he did, he again demanded that Murphy withdraw his program because offering it was "unlawful conduct." That precipitated more E-mail, articles on Slashdot and CNet News (in addition to the aforementioned Politech thread), and a lot of legal maneuvering that seems designed more to confuse than to clarify. The Attitudinal, of course, cannot stand for that, offering only the caveat that the Attitudinal is neither a lawyer nor a legal entity.

DMCA took copyright law further by outlawing technology or devices designed to circumvent measures intended to preserve intellectual property rights. Try saying that three times fast. For example, if you write software and protect it with a copy-protection scheme, DMCA makes it illegal to develop a program to crack that copy-protection scheme. The scheme is a "technological measure that effectively controls access to a work" protected by copyright law, and DMCA bars interfering with such schemes. Agfa's position is that changing the embedding bits on a font is "circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access" to the font, and therefore any tool that changes these bits violates DMCA.

This is a lot like arguing that the Finder should be illegal because it lets you clear a program's "locked" checkbox. In a long legal memo sent to Murphy, Stack argues that DMCA fully prohibits changing software switches that work as technological measures to control work, but his example is ridiculously off base. Stack points out that RealMedia files include a "copy switch," set by the content creator, that determines whether anyone viewing RealAudio or RealVideo files can save them to disk or merely view them as streams. Of course, as you're well aware, re-viewing a stream requires reconnecting to the Internet and hoping that the stream is still available; saving a copy makes it available at your leisure for all time and allows you to make copies to send to your friends, even though you may not have rights to do so. The problem, however, is that the "copy switch" really does "effectively control access" to the media in question.

Standard RealMedia files (the ".ra" or ".ram" files you download) are text files that contain an RTSP URL for finding the stream. There is no way to download the stored media via HTTP, FTP, or other method - you can only view the stream in RealPlayer, and then you can save a copy only if the stream sent from the RealServer software tells your copy of RealPlayer that it's acceptable.

The embedding bits in a TrueType or OpenType font, however, are in no way a "technological measure that effectively control access to a work." No value for embedding permissions prevents anyone from copying or pirating the font file that you install on your system to make that font available. Software is not bound by law to respect the embedding bits, either, and Acrobat Distiller v3 and earlier did not - those versions would embed any font you asked them to embed, regardless of the value or even the existence of embedding permissions.

The "copy switch" in RealMedia files actually keeps you from accessing the stored media on disk or saving a copy. Embedding bits in a font on your hard drive do not stop any program from copying that font file. They are not copy protection, they're not encryption, they are nothing more than the font designer's intent for embedding. Agfa's position is even weaker by the realization that most of its fonts have the embedding bits set to allow embedding. As with all forms of piracy, you can embed Agfa fonts in digital documents, but you're not supposed to unless you own the rights to do so.

The only legitimate fear Agfa could possibly have is that customers are using tools like "embed" to change the embedding bits on fonts without purchasing an embedding license. In other words, even if someone did pirate the font file, they still wouldn't be able to embed the font in digital documents without something like "embed." This, too, is bilge. The exact specification of embedding bits is open for anyone to see, and any number of font creation tools can change it, including tools that Agfa Monotype developed for its in-house use. In the name of this alleged embedding piracy, Agfa wants to restrict full manipulation of font embedding bits to itself and keep it out of the hands of developers like Murphy who use a tool that doesn't work properly. Macromedia is now a Web design company and Fontographer is in mothballs - it's never been updated to fix the embedding problem and probably never will be.

Agfa's demand that no tools change embedding bits speaks more of anticompetitive behavior than of a desire to protect copyrights, in the Attitudinal's sage opinion. Were this argument to stand, most font editors on the planet would also be illegal, for they allow changing embedding permissions. So do Apple's font development tools, and even the venerable ResEdit and Resorcerer. There is no attempt to hide the embedding information or encrypt it - nothing that common sense or DMCA would rule as trying to "limit" distribution of the font, just how it's embedded. Sure, the company says its embedding licenses are "reasonably-priced," but after six years of publication, the Attitudinal has learned one rule well: if a company is afraid to post its prices, it knows it's charging too much.

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Licensing Font Data

On its face, Agfa's license seems to be completely inappropriate, at least in the Attitudinal's homeland. When the company says, "Our End User license does not permit redistribution of font data beyond the set number of workstations without an additional license," it's standing on shaky ground: US law does not allow protecting "font data" via copyright.

It's amazing but true. As the comp.fonts FAQ describes, the Copyright Revision Act of 1976 explicitly removed typefaces as "artistic works" that may be protected by copyright. The US House of Representatives committee that reported the bill said, "The Committee does not regard the design of typeface, as thus defined, to be a copyrightable 'pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work' within the meaning of this bill and the application of the dividing line in section 101." In 1988, the US Copyright Office decided that this prohibited protecting electronic fonts, too: "data that merely represents an electronic depiction of a particular typeface or individual letterform [that is, a bitmapped font] is also not registerable." (57 FR 6201, for you fans of the Federal Register.)

The US law is definitely in the minority: just about every other country with copyright laws allows protecting font designs via copyright. The US also protects fonts designed outside the US by copyright - it has to, as a signatory to the Berne Convention that enforces international copyright laws. If it's protected by copyright in the country of design, it's protected here. It's merely US designers - and companies - that are out of luck. And despite Agfa's and Monotype's European heritage, Agfa Monotype and ITC are both wholly or partially US corporations. Remember, the Attitudinal is not a lawyer or even particularly clever; the larger point is that this lack of copyright affects all US companies that sell fonts.

The situation isn't totally bleak for font designers, though: the US Copyright Office does register outline fonts for copyright protection. Why the split? The Copyright Office has ruled that outline fonts aren't really typefaces - they're computer programs. "The creation of scalable font output programs to produce harmonious fonts consisting of hundreds of characters typically involves many decisions in drafting the instructions that drive the printer. The expression of these decisions is neither limited by the unprotectable shape of the letters nor functionally mandated. This expression, assuming it meets the usual standard of authorship, is thus registerable as a computer program." (57 FR 6202)

Therefore, because of bizarre US laws, bitmap fonts aren't protected. The raw outlines of fonts as you might find them in Illustrator or FreeHand after converting text to outlines aren't protected either, because that's merely a depiction of an unprotectable typeface. That's why all those knock-off foundries that offer "four billion outline fonts on one CD" can retrace the outlines of popular fonts: the typefaces themselves can't be protected. It's only the actual Type 1 font program or TrueType font that can be protected. Type 1 fonts contain hinting instructions that move their control points around depending on how the font fits the resolution of the output device. TrueType fonts also contain hints in a more powerful but lower-level programming language. Now, theoretically, the hinting may be protectable by copyright but the glyph data itself not subject to the same protections, but the Copyright Office or the US Courts have never been asked to split that hair, at least to the Attitudinal's knowledge. You could possibly get into an argument that the curves or bitmaps are necessary data for the copyrighted program to run, but it's a dispute that won't be resolved here.

So, for now, outline font "programs" can be protected by copyright. This is why Agfa and other foundries take such great pains to refer to their font "software" and not just to "fonts." It's also why the embedding page has such a major mistake: in the US, Agfa can't license "font data" because non-program descriptions of fonts are explicitly ineligible for copyright protection. You therefore can't need a license, since Agfa can't protect the bitmaps or the curves anyway. Oops.

The whole mess suggests that embedding would be a non-issue if PDF and other formats embedded only the outlines of glyphs and not the hints that make them look good at low resolutions, but that's not happening, at least not in PDF. Adobe is very proud of the high quality of PDF output, even on relatively low-resolution devices like inkjet printers or typical desktop displays. You may not think of a 2880 DPI inkjet printer as "low resolution," but most people don't print at that resolution all the time, and it takes high-quality paper and ink to approach the same output you'd get on a printing press with similar resolution. Displays that barely reach 100 DPI are downright primitive compared to imagesetters, but PDF looks good on them anyway. Adobe's not about to give up the hints.

It's a shame, because it might cut off Agfa's oxygen supply in the company's stunning attempt to demand more money from fonts you've already purchased. Despite setting embedding permissions on the fonts, the company now says you can't give documents with its embedded fonts to anyone who isn't already licensed to have the fonts - and therefore doesn't need them embedded in the document. It wants to force public domain tools for setting embedding bits in fonts you design to be taken off the market while keeping its own private tools for the same purpose. Agfa doesn't even want you to use its fonts in server applications that automatically draw text on demand, like iCards or that system that generates a graphic with your name in it.

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Shooting Itself in the Foot

Agfa's behavior is a really good example of why foundries may not be ready for US copyright protection on typefaces themselves. Just think: any time you use a bitmap font in any kind of image or computer document, you are "embedding" the bitmap data. Since Agfa is a German company, it doesn't have to report results, so you don't know how well or how poorly the font business is performing, but Agfa gives the appearance of a company trying hard to squeeze new sources of revenue out of a maturing digital typeface business. Agfa might want to charge you for "embedding" a bitmap font in an image on your Web site, in a QuickTime movie, or even in an icon.

In other words, Agfa is willing to license its font programs to you, but only if all you ever publish is the output. No no, stay with the Attitudinal here. If you purchase a Photoshop filter to manipulate images, you can't embed that filter into something you distribute, like shareware or a Photoshop action, even if it gives the output you want. Agfa seems to believe that embedding its font programs into PDF files is the same thing: you can use the font programs on your systems to produce whatever output you want, but you can't embed the program elsewhere. That's giving away Agfa's font program to run on someone else's computer when the PDF file is viewed.

Unfortunately, the company also wants extra payments if you use the font on a server-based application. That's like saying you can't rig up a Web server to call Photoshop to create an image on the fly. Of course you can, as long as the server computer has a fully licensed copy of Photoshop. The license doesn't care if it's running on a server or on your desktop, but Agfa's license does. If Agfa could also protect bitmap images of fonts output by its outline font programs, the rights grab could be a lot worse.

The industry sponsors a site called "TypeRight" that advocates a change in US law so typefaces are again protected by copyright. TypeRight seeks to reassure jittery type users that copyrighted typefaces won't unreasonably restrict their use, such as a foundry refusing you permission to use a typeface because it disagrees with your content. The best answer the site has for this concern? "It's very unlikely this would happen." Isn't that reassuring?

On the same page, the site tries to assuage fears that publishers will have to pay royalties every time they use a font like this: "When you purchase a font now, you pay a one-time fee to license certain rights of use. Although these rights may vary from foundry to foundry, nobody asks you to pay a fee every time you use that font. Copyright will not change this. What it will do is protect designers and foundries from those who take our work, rename it, and sell it as their own."

The latter goal is admirable. Designing a font takes real artistic talent and the patience to spend dozens of hours fine-tuning outlines, two traits the Attitudinal does not possess, on top of a vision for a consistent and expressible design throughout an entire glyph set whose baseline seems to grow each month thanks to increasing demand for Unicode characters. But to Agfa, that "one-time fee" to license "certain rights" already excludes using that font digitally. Printing? Sure, go ahead. Embedding in images? OK for now, since the font bitmaps can't be copyrighted. Embedding in digital documents? No, absolutely not, at least not without a more expensive license.

If Agfa wants to restrict its typefaces so severely under the already-limited US copyright law, it's painful to imagine what kind of royalties or licenses it would demand if it had full protection for them. Fortunately, the marketplace is already providing a solution: foundries like Adobe and Bitstream that not only allow but encourage full embedding of their fonts in digital documents. These two companies correctly see that good typography in a PDF file makes you more likely to want a font for yourself, but no more likely to pirate it than if you'd seen it on a billboard or in a magazine. Typography fans purchase fonts to express their visions and communicate clearly. They want tools to assist, not obstruct their choice of media. "This is the perfect design, but we can only use it in print unless we pay more to license it for the online user manual." Pshaw.

That's why the Attitudinal's influence on MWJ's redesign, limited strictly to the points where someone finally had to decide something, is mainly felt in the typography of the PDF versions. The fonts are Adobe's Minion Pro (for body text) and Myriad Pro Semi-Condensed (for headlines). The Attitudinal screamed for these not only because they are perhaps the best-drawn fonts of the past decade, nor only because they are OpenType fonts with vast glyph selections offering lots of growth opportunities for great typography. They're also Adobe Originals, meaning neither Agfa nor any other foundry can later come and demand that Adobe stop selling versions that allow embedding.

The only thing these fonts are missing are the Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) tables, the post-GX descendants that let many Mac OS X applications automatically get beautiful typography and glyph selection with almost no work on your part. Adobe has never supported Apple's typography initiatives - other than to steal the ideas for OpenType but implement them in a way that only benefits Adobe's and Microsoft's programs - but everything else about them is nearly perfect, including embedding rights. You see Minion and Myriad in diverse uses these days, and it's not because they're cheap. It's because they work how you want them to work, visually and electronically. What more could you want?

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The DMCA Stick

And so it comes full circle. According to Adobe's announcement, Agfa is threatening to file a DMCA complaint against Acrobat, presumably for embedding fonts without Agfa's permission. "Adobe believes these claims are being made to gain ITC and Agfa leverage in the contractual disputes. Adobe strongly disputes this claim and is asking the court to rule that there is no violation of the DMCA." The scarier thought is that Agfa really does believe that Acrobat violates the DMCA, just as the company has tried to bully freeware font developers into withdrawing tools that no pirate in his right mind would ever bother to use. If you've got enough font savvy to know how to change embedding bits, you've got more powerful tools than a Windows command-line tool in your arsenal.

Yet it's somewhat satisfying to see Adobe threatened on DMCA grounds, or hoist with its own petard. Over a year ago, Adobe initiated the only criminal DMCA prosecution to date, against Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, the author of the Advanced eBook Processor. The program, which sold for US$99 from Russian software developer Elcomsoft, could take any encrypted PDF-based eBook file and break the pathetically weak encryption, allowing you to save it as an unprotected PDF file. This, of course, cheesed Adobe off no end, especially since the company and the programmer were in Russia.

It goes without saying that it is not a crime to break US laws outside the US, just as it's not a crime for people in the US to behave in ways forbidden by Russian law. Were it not so, there'd be no fine fraternity tradition of trundling to Tijuana. This grated Adobe's cheese even further, until the company learned that Sklyarov would be speaking at a hacker convention in Las Vegas in August 2001 [NOTE: was in July 2001]. Adobe has already tried falsehoods in legal documents to try to stop the distribution of Advanced eBook Processor, such as telling ISPs and payment processors that it contained copyrighted Adobe software, and that bullying tactic hadn't worked.

So in July 2001, Adobe called the FBI. The company's employees - specifically eBooks product manager Kevin Nathanson, investigator Daryl Spano, and senior eBook engineering manager Tom Diaz - told FBI special agent Daniel J. O'Connell not only about Advanced eBook Processor, but also that Sklyarov was visiting the United States, where he would be speaking, and at what time. The FBI arrested Sklyarov, held him without bail for three weeks on DMCA charges, and a federal court refused to let him leave the country until December 2001. Then all charges were dropped after he agreed to testify "against" Elcomsoft in a DMCA trial about Advanced eBook Processor, but Sklyarov insists he'll tell only the truth and that it will show no laws were broken.

Thousands of people were outraged at Adobe's actions, and a handful even picketed the company's headquarters in San Jose. Faced with massive complaints after Sklyarov's 2001.07.16 arrest, Adobe took just one week to cave and publicly recommend that he be released from custody and the charges dropped. Of course, Adobe knew what people who only watch TV do not - once a prosecutor has enough information to file charges, there's absolutely no way to convince him not to do so. There's no such thing as "I won't press charges" in most instances. Also, Adobe tried pretty hard to hide that it was its own employees who not only initiated the criminal case against Sklyarov but told the FBI exactly when and where he could be found in the US for a DMCA-sanctioned arrest. The truth is contained in Agent O'Connell's signed criminal complaint that led to the warrant for Sklyarov's arrest.

The Attitudinal feels it's important that you remember these details, if for no other reason than that Adobe so desperately wants you to forget them. The problem with the Sklyarov prosecution isn't so much about DMCA as about jurisdiction: Advanced eBook Processor pretty clearly tries to circumvent copy-protection that eBook authors place on their works, but no one subject to US laws wrote it. Elcomsoft sold a grand total of seven copies of the program through a US payment processor; two of those were to Adobe, and all were marked that they were to make unencrypted copies of eBooks for your own use. You see, eBooks have this nasty way of ceasing to work if you buy a new computer or need to use them on a laptop, thanks to the overly restrictive copy protection.

DMCA's role in barring such personal use remains for the courts to determine, and maybe the Elcomsoft case will do that. Adobe's conduct was still abominable.

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Fight for Your Type Rights

Today's computers have opened new creative media that designers like Bodoni and Garamond couldn't have imagined - PDF files, Flash applications, dynamic HTML, and so much more. New media still needs good design, including new typography.

From entry-level books like The Non-Designer's Type Book to more formidable tomes like The Elements of Typographic Style, computer users everywhere are learning more about the art of typography than ever before. Sure, your average PDF file doesn't approach the typography of a well-designed book, but quick electronic output today looks a lot better than it did fifteen years ago. More fonts from more designers are driving prices down on display faces, even while features such as OpenType and expanded glyph selection (the glyphs formerly known as "expert sets") provide more value than ever in high-end digital typefaces.

It should be a renaissance for digital typography. Adobe is responding by converting all its fonts to OpenType and offering the upgraded fonts to anyone for US$19 per weight for 90 days after introduction, a 33% discount. ("Pro" fonts with vastly expanded glyph collections are US$35 per weight.) Each of Adobe's fonts has full embedding features, and they include modernized glyphs like the Euro symbol and other character encoding updates. The second phase of OpenType font conversions is out now. Meanwhile, Agfa wants you to pay more to embed digital fonts you might have purchased fifteen years ago, without offering updates for Euro symbols, modern character encodings, or (heaven forbid!) the more useful GX-derived OpenType format.

Which company do you want to support?


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