Fonts are frequently used illegally by businesses, large and small and ignorance is not an excuse. John McCallum, managing director, Monotype Imaging, sets the record straight.

In today's competitive business world, one of the best ways to increase awareness of your company is through an instantly recognisable logo.

Once companies have become leaders in their respective fields, a prime way of consolidating that success is to have a logo that sticks in people's minds.

This way, as soon as people think of a sector, they immediately picture the logo of the leading organisation. For example, if you think of Barclays Bank, one can instantly picture the light blue writing on the dark blue background. Likewise, if one thinks of airlines, British Airways, the blue writing on the white background spring to mind.

When a company is deciding on a new logo or marketing collateral, one of the most crucial decisions that has to be made is the style of the typeface that the name of the organisation is to appear in. Because it is used in all communications the typeface can help create the brand or corporate image, therefore being responsible for increased brand value.

One of the main considerations that needs to be taken into account when it comes to commissioning a new typeface is that font designs and font software are actually classed as intellectual property (IP). Within the font design industry, this is common knowledge.

However, for all the major companies sometimes spending millions on their new corporate or brand identities, they are often not aware of this, meaning that the font design industry is continually subject to an alarmingly high degree of idea and content theft.

The reason that fonts are classed as IP is that they are individual pieces of design in their own right, which are represented in software code. The art of designing a typeface is a complex and highly skilled discipline.

The process incorporates design know-how, painstaking precision and attention to detail. In many cases, even with all the digital tools that we have today, it may take many months to produce a new typeface. As such, like any software, digital fonts are intellectual property and are subject to copyright and trademark laws.

Like other areas in the software industry, piracy is prevalent. In a recent study by IDC, it was revealed that there is a global software piracy rate of 35 per cent. However, it is probable that the percentage of illegal font software in use is much higher than for software in general because fonts are more portable and easily transmitted from user to user either as stand alone software or embedded within electronic documents.

There are actually two types of theft: accidental and deliberate. On one hand, there are software pirates looking to steal / copy / plagiarise and make money out of their activities. However, on the other hand, many companies use fonts illegally, without realising that they are doing so. This can have serious consequences.

For example, a retail brand using an unlicensed font for a new product line and advertising campaign would run a high risk of detection by the font publisher. This could result in withdrawal of the entire product line and campaign proving costly and damaging to the brand and to the company's reputation. This is the main reason why font design companies are committed to increasing awareness that fonts are software too.

The implications of this high level of piracy within the font industry are considerably further reaching than one would immediately think. Firstly, it means that the whole font design process is at risk as designers, who earn their living from royalties paid for their work, move out of the industry.

Ultimately, innovation is slowed down, which leads to a decreased supply of new fonts. Secondly, font misuse can actually affect the whole supply chain of a product, such as consumer goods or pieces of hardware or software.

Font selection occurs at a very early stage in the development of a product. If the manufacturers are using an illegal font and something goes wrong, this undoubtedly slows up the entire process of launching a product, meaning further time and expenses and ultimately putting the company at risk.

So, one of the earliest and main challenges for companies wanting to refresh their brand, or launch a new product, is to make sure that they are 'font compliant' to avoid any unnecessary disruptions. The question that is, therefore, posed to all these companies is 'how do I become compliant?'

It is accepted that fonts are owned by foundries or independent typeface designers. Most foundries license fonts for use on a set number of workstations and printers. Collections of fonts can be purchased more competitively in groups, or as libraries.

The general rule is that the scope of usage of the fonts is governed by the licence agreement under which the fonts are supplied. The licence terms differ between foundries. For example, most foundries, but not all, do not allow the distribution of fonts beyond a set number of workstations without an additional licence.

As such, in order to become fully compliant, the first step is to approach the owning foundry, who can guide each individual company through the ways to obtain the most appropriate license for their fonts. For those companies that have any doubts about their licensing position, it is highly recommended that they contact their respective font suppliers or publishers.

The bottom line is that companies have to make sure that they are using legally licensed fonts, just as they would with any other software application, because fonts are software too.