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WEB FONTS · May 18, 2009

Oh No! Not More Web Fonts!

About a month ago I was interviewed by Jeffery Zeldman, from A List Apart, on my early experiences in the type industry. When the interview veered to the topic of web fonts, much to my excitement, I spilled too big an idea. Excitement because we at Font Bureau were beginning to formulate an early proposal for an additional table in our fonts. We’ve now sharpened that to a simpler proposal than what I was discussing with Mr. Zeldman. And of course we are excited because this table, in concert with CSS’s long neglected @fontface recommendation, will bring all kinds of possibilities to our users and anyone else who has intellectual property or ‘uniqueness-of-appearance’ interests on the web.

The sharper and simpler proposal, an action item now actually, is to define this table only for inclusion in our OpenType fonts, with the permission table including the ability to permit conversion to, e.g. the EOT format. These two formats (OT and EOT) being accepted by all browsers, we will be able to define and offer fonts for users of all kinds, from free-to-link-to, all the way to custom developed for a single site, which is what the font licensing public needs.

But to run through the whole table quickly first has been demanded. OpenType fonts contain many tables, some of which are required and supply whatever font software that uses the font with basics like outline and hint data from the glyph table or menu names from the OS/2 table. Other OpenType tables, like KERN are fully optional. If you have to change any of the existing required tables, all kinds of software has to be re-written. So the only option available to fully and forever solve font-linking for anyone who has intellectual property or ‘uniqueness-of-appearance’ interests on the web is a new table.

The PERM table will not require any software outside of font tools to change. The table will contain all the requirements of an optional OpenType table including the information for human readable name of the table, the size of the table and its location in the font, as all other tables do. In addition, the PERM table will contain permissions for embedding into files, bundling onto CD-roms and with other software, linking as web fonts require, format conversion permissions, compression permission and recommendations as well as sub-setting permission. All of these permissions, will have suitable variables to describe sub-permissions per category.

This description, simple as it is, has brought on two most prolifically asked questions. First, “The permissions table doesn’t ‘do anything’ what’s the point?” and “...nothing uses it or looks at it, and nothing has to be changed, why have it?!”

There really is no short answer to either of these questions. But the public at large is looking for legal access to something, and all kinds of organizations are looking for access to unique appearances, as always. Pictured below is the the first driver’s license ever issued to anyone for an automobile (from, which I’d read if I were you). This license did nothing, and under most circumstances, no one had to look at it. Nothing had to change in the world at large with respect to this or any license that’s been issued since. Most of the billions of future drivers and their descendants had no idea when this license was issued that they should even question the need for such a thing.

Here we are again, but how times have changed. We greatly look forward to getting past this simple issue of permissions and licensing so that we can get to the much more important issues of user experience in reading and browsing, web designer experience in licensing and linking, and of course to the type designer’s experience in preparing the best possible solutions for all involved. So I invite anyone who wants more information, or to join our effort (it’s not just our problem), to move on with us. We’re not interested in much else!


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