Cyberclinic: Is it worth actually buying a typeface?

Have you ever bought a font? Within minutes of this question being addressed on our blog this week, I received a stern dressing-down for misusing the word font, when I actually meant "typeface". (I blame both Windows and Mac OS for storing typefaces in a folder named "Fonts".) But the real issue is one of copyright; while the sharing of software applications, music and video receives untold publicity, few people consider humble fonts. The minuscule size of these font files means that they have been swapped with impunity for decades, with no copy protection, serial numbers or reminders that we haven't paid. The only thing stopping them being shared and copied is our sense of guilt.

Maybe for this reason, we've developed an appetite for collecting them – particularly when we've just embarked on a fun-filled relationship with a computer. This is mainly down to the misguided notion that having loads to choose from will suddenly add that missing flash of inspiration to our party invitations. The designer Jacob Cass has posted a blog entry [ 2epltc] detailing a mere 30 typefaces any designer should ever need; if you have a tendency to flip through colossal menus in a vain search for the right one, it's worth having a look.

There are several sources on the net for free typefaces. But they are largely amateurish efforts, and those that look professional are often commercial typefaces that have been repackaged; a recent study found that 70 per cent of fonts on one particular site have an absent copyright string (a code within the typeface). That's a typical indication of foul play.

"Most typeface design is done by individuals and small companies," posted Stephen Coles on our blog. "It's an esoteric skill and there are very few who can do it well. They should be paid for their work." Let's spare them a thought next time we effortlessly drag a folder full of font files on to our hard disk.

Diagnosis required

Email any technology gripes to, or join the discussions on the daily Cyberclinic blog at Currently under discussion: Can I get Blackberry-style email alerts on my normal phone? Coming up this week: How can I password-protect my website?

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