Can I legally trace a copyrighted computer font into my own art?
3 attorney answers
An intriguing question. A font is not generally copyrightable. However the computer code that generates the font on a computer may be copyrightable. If we assume that it is analogous to a blueprint for a picnic bench -- you can't "copy" the graphic blueprint (download the code for the font) but you can use the information to make an uncopyrightable useful item, the bench (the image of a letter generated by the code) without infringing -- then there is an argument that calligraphy from tracing could be OK. This assumes there is no "art" in the font, like animal figures, or medieval manuscripts. Other legal ideas are welcome. If you really need to know, hire a lawyer to research cases.
When you note that "I sometimes trace fonts" you really mean that, while creating your calligraphy art, you sometimes print out and then physically trace letters that someone else created in a fancy, digital font then, yes, that would very likely be lawful because just one letter -- no matter how fancifully drawn -- is not copyrightable. Speak with your own Washington-licensed intellectual property attorney, however, because that may not be what you mean and to learn how far you can push the limit of legality. Good luck.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
Although the US Copyright Office generally takes the position that typefont is not registrable except in some limited instances, it is possible that whatever you are tracing may be one of these limited instances, and there may be a copyright infringement issue for that reason; in addition, a computer program that creates a typefont can be registered and if what you are doing leads to computer code that produces this same typefont there may also be a concern; you should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
Also See 906.4 of the following link:
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