E-Book Distribution

I just learned yesterday a new wrinkle in the process of producing and selling an e-book. Namely, that before you can sell an e-book, you must be sure that the fonts you use for your text, headers, etc,, have been purchased or licensed for your publisher's use. Or, I suppose that the font is available 'in the wild' hence legally in the public domain? I do not know the specifics of the law and the copyright book I purchased does not address this issue. If any one knows more about it, please let us writers in on the buzz.

David Trammel's picture

There is this


"No, I assume what you’re asking about isn’t the typeface, but rather the digital font file, which it sounds like you’re planning on embedded in — and so selling and distributing with — the ebook. Unfortunately, that font file is a piece of software created by someone. And software is protected by copyright.[1]

Every font comes with a license. In some cases, that license releases the font for free use. The ones that Microsoft and Apple acquired to allow them to distribute fonts with their operating systems and other software vary, but in most cases allow the user to use the font on their computer, but not to distribute or sell it.

Well, when you embed a font in an ebook file and then upload it to Amazon or Kobo or Apple… you’re distributing and selling a copyright-protected piece of intellectual property. So owning a license for desktop use doesn’t allow you to embed it in an ebook — for that you need to purchase an electronic publishing license. Looking on Fonts.com, it looks like such licenses for Times New Roman start at $340.[2]

Given that most ereaders don’t display embedded fonts well anyway,[3] is that really worth it?

and this

This is true, fonts are often under copyright.

However, we've only run into the issue with our trade paperbacks. That's because Bill (our layout man) uses a wide variety of fonts on covers, backs, spines, and for the interior that fulfill his design requirements. He's careful to use open-source or we buy the font. Even so, sometimes he makes a mistake, the book gets rejected by the Zon, and it's bounced back to us for fixing.

It's tedious work figuring out which bit of text Amazon's algorithms didn't like!

We haven't had the issue with eBooks but then he uses programs that stick to a very small list of acceptable fonts. That's because eBooks don't have the freedom to use any font under the sun, unlike trade paperbacks which do.

[EDITED: Bill here. Teresa asked me to clarify, and I'll refer you to a post I wrote after I had a font flagged for one of my books. It also explains how you can determine if your font can be used for commercial works. I haven't seen this problem crop up in the forums I visit, so it doesn't seem to be a big problem, but it can trip you up.]