Website font licences: Why you need them and how to implement them

Brand identity plays a central role in ensuring any business or organisation is easily recognisable.

One of the more subtle, yet arguably the most important, elements of a brand is the font it uses to communicate with its audience. Typography cannot be underestimated in its ability to convey trustworthiness, authority, professionalism and more.

A classic example of this is the much-maligned Comic Sans font. The playful typeface has become a mainstay on posters for jumble sales and quiz nights, and as such its use could easily have a negative impact on a brand’s reputation.

Once you have selected an appropriate font for your brand, you’ll want to use it largely across all marketing and communications channels – and none are more important than your online shop window – your website.

In order to use your chosen font on your websitesite you’ll need a website font licence – which is why we have written this guide to website font licences to help you ensure everything is set up correctly when it comes to your website typeface.

What is a website font licence?

It’s essentially a legal agreement between you or your organisation, and the person who created the typeface.

A website font licence can specify terms and conditions for how a font can be used. It’s important to understand any restrictions in usage before you begin to implement a font across your brand.

Why do I need a licence for my website font?

Every font is unique, and the majority are subject to copyright. Even if you don’t need to pay for the font you will need to have permission from the creator to use it on your website. This permission comes in the form of a font licence.

Font licences are granted to ensure the font designer is appropriately remunerated or credited by anyone using that particular typeface, and to outline any rules surrounding its use.

In terms of licenced fonts, at this point, you might be asking Can I use any font on my website? Sure you can – as long as you have the correct licence you can use any font you choose.

Different types of website font licence

It’s important at this point to make a distinction between a font and a typeface, as although these terms are to an extent interchangeable, there is an important difference.

Typeface refers to the font family in general and includes all variations of that family. Taking Arial as an example, a licence for the typeface would include all weights and variations of the Arial font, including Arial Narrow and Arial Black as well as italic and bold versions.

A license for the Arial font would only cover Arial regular.

Understanding how you will be using the font and the variations your brand wants to employ will help you to ensure you have the correct licence(s) in place to avoid any repercussions down the line.

Also, it’s important to note that whilst some licences grant perpetual use for fonts and typefaces online, others work on a ‘per-view’ basis. You’ll need to do a bit of research and comparison to understand the cost implications of the font you want to use.

Finally, another important element to double-check is whether the font licence you are looking at actually covers online usage.

There are six different font licences for different uses:

Webfont license – this is the one you need to embed the font into your website
Desktop – for installing a font on a laptop or computer
Embedded – for fonts appearing on physical items, including branded products
Mobile – allows fonts to be embedded in mobile apps
ePub – for font use in commercial publications
Server – for web or cloud-based services

Common places to get a website font licence

There are many different font vendors available online. One of the most recognised and trusted is Adobe which provides an easy-to-use site for finding and downloading font licences as required.

Adobe provides access to a range of its typefaces, alongside those from other vendors. Other platforms such as Google Fonts offer a comprehensive selection of free fonts to download.

MyFonts is another superstore with a range of fonts and typefaces available from various providers.

Remember though, whether you are paying for a typeface or downloading it for free, you will still need to check the licence to ensure you can use it on your website.

What happens if you use an unlicensed font on your website?

Font creators and owners use a range of methods to ensure that their copyright is protected – and that individuals and organisations are not using fonts without the appropriate licence.

A degree of automation is used to hunt out instances of font usage and to find the corresponding licence.

If you decide to use a font without obtaining a licence (and installing it correctly in the back-end of your site), you may find yourself in trouble with the law and facing a fine.

How to install website font licences correctly

Many modern web font licences need to be embedded in the code of your website to allow the font to display correctly on the end user’s screen – and to prevent you from getting in trouble with the copyright owner!

Your server essentially hosts the font, allowing visitors to your site to access it when required. If the website has a font embedded, a tracking script may need to be added to your code to ensure the licence is visible in the right places.

Who’s responsible for a website font licence?

Whether you’ve employed a branding agency to provide you with all fonts and licences, or your web designer has done that for you, ultimately the buck stops with you.

The use of any font by any organisation links back directly to it. If it’s used on your website and you don’t have the right licence installed correctly, regardless of who implemented it, your organisation is responsible in the eyes of the law.

Our pro-tips for making sure you get your font licensing right

As you can see, licensing a font for your website is not necessarily straightforward. You need to be diligent to ensure you are obtaining the right licence and adding it to your website in the right way to avoid any legal pitfalls in the future.

Here’s our list of five pro-tips for website font licensing:

1. Source your font/typeface and licence from a reputable vendor
2. Remember to obtain a specific ‘Webfont’ licence
3. Research the cost implications of the font whether it’s on a per-use basis or an ongoing fee
4. If outsourcing, ask your web designer or branding agency to provide you with a copy of the licence terms
5. If in doubt, seek professional advice

For support with your Webfont licensing, contact us today via our contact form or calling 0121 663 0202 and one of our support team will be in touch.