Can I use fonts in my design on t-shirts that are sold to the public?

Asked about 3 years ago - Los Angeles, CA

If I buy a licence for fonts, can I use those fonts in my t-shirt designs (commercial mass produced shirts)?
And can I use these fonts in my logo?

Attorney answers (4)

  1. Daniel Nathan Ballard

    Contributor Level 20


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Simple questions, like yours, sometimes require a very complicated factual and legal analysis to answer.

    First, typeface designs ["fonts"] are not copyrightable. Font designers cannot, therefore, assert that the reproduction and/or publication of any of the fonts they create is copyright infringement.

    HOWEVER, the software that creates fonts can be copyrightable. It is now a legal reality that the typical consumer software transaction is a "license" arrangement and not the "sale" of that particular, transferred copy of the software. In short, the "buyer" buys a license to use the software -- he does NOT buy the physical copy of the software that he takes home [even though the buyer never has to give that particular copy back to the seller, or to anyone].

    If your software license does not restrict how you can use the software that creates the font then I see no legal restrictions on your use of the font to create your tee shirt designs.

    Moreover, it is certainly within the possible that you do NOT need some other person's software to create the font that you like but, rather, you can either create your own software to make the font or you can create a hard copy set of the symbols that you want to use in that font. In those situations, as well, I see literally no legal restrictions on your use of that font to create your tee shirt designs.

    Let's assume, however, that you must buy a license to someone else's software in order to create the font that you intend to then use to create your tee shirt designs. The question in that situation is [as noted by my colleague] whether your license to use the software restricts how you can use THE OUTPUT that you create when you use the software.

    Let's assume one of your license terms says that "your use of this software is solely for your personal use -- specifically, you shall not use this software to create any product that you will then offer for sale." But you do anyway.

    The question your own attorney must answer is whether that license provision is enforceable under the state law that controls your license agreement. That question is very difficult to answer -- because it requires consideration of that state's contract, antitrust, and unfair competition law. Although I have not done that analysis under California law my instinct tells me that provision would be an unreasonable restraint of trade which a California court would not enforce [permitting the software licensee to use the software to create products that are then sold]. Your situation obviously requires consideration of the facts that are unique to your license.

    The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and... more
  2. John E. Whitaker

    Contributor Level 16


    Lawyer agrees

    Best Answer
    chosen by asker

    Answered . Yes, you should be able to use the fonts for commercial purposes. While it is true that fonts are licensed, typically the limitations are only on your ability to embed the fonts in documents and not on what you can do with the printed version of the fonts. Rare would be the case that a license to a font would exclude commercial use of the printed version. That would be like buying paper that can't be used for marketing.

  3. John Warwick Caldwell

    Contributor Level 13


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . It is a near certainty that the form of license you will be asked to sign will address this question ... and probably clearly, too. So READ it. If it is not to your liking, it is not impossible that you can work out a deal. After all, you are not selling to Wal Mega K Town. If you DO intend to sell to a big box retailer, then you absolutely do need to negotiate this.

    You are in business. This is business.

    Kind regards

    All comments on this site are 'in the cloud' and do not form an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Just... more
  4. John William Nelson


    Contributor Level 9

    Answered . Mr. Caldwell is correct. The license you agreed to when you purchased the fonts will be controlling. Try and find out what it says. (Sometimes it can be hard to find these later.)

    Fonts are copyrightable as artwork. Fonts for graphic design often carry licensing similar to what you might find on a stock photo website such as iStockPhoto or ThinkStock. The scope of what you can use the font for may also vary.

    My general experience has been that commercially sold fonts tend to come with licenses that allow commercial use. However, I have come across some fonts that are limited to non-commercial, personal use.

    So take Mr. Caldwell's advice and read the license. If you need deeper analysis, track down an attorney who can go over the license with you.

    And, when you purchase any creative material (fonts, photos, software), try and keep a copy of the license and a proof of purchase together in a folder in your files. That way you will have evidence to prove your rights if you are sued by someone.

    Good luck with the t-shirts!

    This information DOES NOT create an attorney/client relationship. I only represent clients after I've entered... more

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