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Ubuntu Font Family Licensing FAQ
Stylistic Foundations
The Ubuntu Font Family is the first time that a libre typeface has been
designed professionally and explicitly with the intent of developing a
public and long-term community-based development process.
When developing an open project, it is generally necessary to have firm
foundations: a font needs to maintain harmony within itself even across
many type designers and writing systems. For the [1]Ubuntu Font Family,
the process has been guided with the type foundry Dalton Maag setting
the project up with firm stylistic foundation covering several
left-to-right scripts: Latin, Greek and Cyrillic; and right-to-left
scripts: Arabic and Hebrew (due in 2011).
With this starting point the community will, under the supervision of
[2]Canonical and [3]Dalton Maag, be able to build on the existing font
sources to expand their character coverage. Ultimately everybody will
be able to use the Ubuntu Font Family in their own written languages
across the whole of Unicode (and this will take some time!).
The licence chosen by any free software project is one of the
foundational decisions that sets out how derivatives and contributions
can occur, and in turn what kind of community will form around the
Using a licence that is compatible with other popular licences is a
powerful constraint because of the [4]network effects: the freedom to
share improvements between projects allows free software to reach
high-quality over time. Licence-proliferation leads to many
incompatible licences, undermining the network effect, the freedom to
share and ultimately making the libre movement that Ubuntu is a part of
less effective. For all kinds of software, writing a new licence is not
to be taken lightly and is a choice that needs to be thoroughly
justified if this path is taken.
Today it is not clear to Canonical what the best licence for a font
project like the Ubuntu Font Family is: one that starts life designed
by professionals and continues with the full range of community
development, from highly commercial work in new directions to curious
beginners' experimental contributions. The fast and steady pace of the
Ubuntu release cycle means that an interim libre licence has been
necessary to enable the consideration of the font family as part of
Ubuntu 10.10 operating system release.
Before taking any decision on licensing, Canonical as sponsor and
backer of the project has reviewed the many existing licenses used for
libre/open fonts and engaged the stewards of the most popular licenses
in detailed discussions. The current interim licence is the first step
in progressing the state-of-the-art in licensing for libre/open font
The public discussion must now involve everyone in the (comparatively
new) area of the libre/open font community; including font users,
software freedom advocates, open source supporters and existing libre
font developers. Most importantly, the minds and wishes of professional
type designers considering entering the free software business
community must be taken on board.
Conversations and discussion has taken place, privately, with
individuals from the following groups (generally speaking personally on
behalf of themselves, rather than their affiliations):
* [5]SIL International
* [6]Open Font Library
* [7]Software Freedom Law Center
* [8]Google Font API
Document embedding
One issue highlighted early on in the survey of existing font licences
is that of document embedding. Almost all font licences, both free and
unfree, permit embedding a font into a document to a certain degree.
Embedding a font with other works that make up a document creates a
"combined work" and copyleft would normally require the whole document
to be distributed under the terms of the font licence. As beautiful as
the font might be, such a licence makes a font too restrictive for
useful general purpose digital publishing.
The situation is not entirely unique to fonts and is encountered also
with tools such as GNU Bison: a vanilla GNU GPL licence would require
anything generated with Bison to be made available under the terms of
the GPL as well. To avoid this, Bison is [9]published with an
additional permission to the GPL which allows the output of Bison to be
made available under any licence.
The conflict between licensing of fonts and licensing of documents, is
addressed in two popular libre font licences, the SIL OFL and GNU GPL:
* [10]SIL Open Font Licence: When OFL fonts are embedded in a
document, the OFL's terms do not apply to that document. (See
[11]OFL-FAQ for details.
* [12]GPL Font Exception: The situation is resolved by granting an
additional permission to allow documents to not be covered by the
GPL. (The exception is being reviewed).
The Ubuntu Font Family must also resolve this conflict, ensuring that
if the font is embedded and then extracted it is once again clearly
under the terms of its libre licence.
Long-term licensing
Those individuals involved, especially from Ubuntu and Canonical, are
interested in finding a long-term libre licence that finds broad favour
across the whole libre/open font community. The deliberation during the
past months has been on how to licence the Ubuntu Font Family in the
short-term, while knowingly encouraging everyone to pursue a long-term
* [13]Copyright assignment will be required so that the Ubuntu Font
Family's licensing can be progressively expanded to one (or more)
licences, as best practice continues to evolve within the
libre/open font community.
* Canonical will support and fund legal work on libre font licensing.
It is recognised that the cost and time commitments required are
likely to be significant. We invite other capable parties to join
in supporting this activity.
The GPL version 3 (GPLv3) will be used for Ubuntu Font Family build
scripts and the CC-BY-SA for associated documentation and non-font
content: all items which do not end up embedded in general works and
Ubuntu Font Licence
For the short-term only, the initial licence is the [14]Ubuntu Font
License (UFL). This is loosely inspired from the work on the SIL
OFL 1.1, and seeks to clarify the issues that arose during discussions
and legal review, from the perspective of the backers, Canonical Ltd.
Those already using established licensing models such as the GPL, OFL
or Creative Commons licensing should have no worries about continuing
to use them. The Ubuntu Font Licence (UFL) and the SIL Open Font
Licence (SIL OFL) are not identical and should not be confused with
each other. Please read the terms precisely. The UFL is only intended
as an interim license, and the overriding aim is to support the
creation of a more suitable and generic libre font licence. As soon as
such a licence is developed, the Ubuntu Font Family will migrate to
it—made possible by copyright assignment in the interium. Between the
OFL 1.1, and the UFL 1.0, the following changes are made to produce the
Ubuntu Font Licence:
* Clarification:
1. Document embedding (see [15]embedding section above).
2. Apply at point of distribution, instead of receipt
3. Author vs. copyright holder disambiguation (type designers are
authors, with the copyright holder normally being the funder)
4. Define "Propagate" (for internationalisation, similar to the GPLv3)
5. Define "Substantially Changed"
6. Trademarks are explicitly not transferred
7. Refine renaming requirement
8. Remove "not to be sold separately" clause
9. Remove "Reserved Font Name(s)" declaration
A visual demonstration of how these points were implemented can be
found in the accompanying coloured diff between SIL OFL 1.1 and the
Ubuntu Font Licence 1.0: [16]ofl-1.1-ufl-1.0.diff.html
1. http://font.ubuntu.com/
2. http://www.canonical.com/
3. http://www.daltonmaag.com/
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect
5. http://scripts.sil.org/
6. http://openfontlibrary.org/
7. http://www.softwarefreedom.org/
8. http://code.google.com/webfonts
9. http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#CanIUseGPLToolsForNF
10. http://scripts.sil.org/OFL_web
11. http://scripts.sil.org/OFL-FAQ_web
12. http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#FontException
13. https://launchpad.net/~uff-contributors
14. http://font.ubuntu.com/ufl/ubuntu-font-licence-1.0.txt
15. http://font.ubuntu.com/ufl/FAQ.html#embedding
16. http://font.ubuntu.com/ufl/ofl-1.1-ufl-1.0.diff.html