Did you know that just because a font came with your computer or Word doesn’t mean you can use it in your physical print book?
Some fonts, while free to use personally or in other electronic forms, have extra requirements or copyright rules if you are to put it on a physical product…like a book.
That means that if an author isn’t careful, they could choose a font from their Word or other writing software, like Times New Roman, that isn’t legally allowed to be put in a print product without an extra paid license.
Now, let’s be real. Most authors don’t get hit for this. If you use Times New Roman in your print book without a license, the chances of you getting sued are slim. The only major court case that I found was against a major company and involved a Harry Potter font.
However, I do think that going forward, we authors should take care to be compliant, and choose fonts that we can absolutely use. This includes fonts in the book, chapter title, or even on your book cover.
So, in order to protect yourself, it’s best to have an understanding of font copyright laws, how to figure out if your font is allowed to be used, and if necessary, how to purchase the rights to use a font.
- The different types of font licenses
- How to tell if a font is copyrighted
- How to purchase the license to a font
- Fonts that you can use for free
Table of contents
- Font vs Typeface: What is a Font Really?
- How to Legally Use Fonts
- General Types of Font Licenses You Should Look Out For
- How to Tell If a Font Is Copyrighted
- How to Purchase Fonts
- Fonts You Can Use Free in Your Book
- Fonts in Book Covers
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
NOTE: We are not legal professionals here at Kindlepreneur and cannot give legal advice. If you are uncertain about the legalities of the fonts you use, we encourage you to consult a lawyer.
Font vs Typeface: What is a Font Really?
A common mistake people make is the use of the word font. When most people say font what they actually mean is typeface. So, to help us all be on the same page, here is a quick breakdown between a font and typeface.
A typeface is the individual lettering design that serves as the basis for all of the individual fonts within that design.
A font is the specific computer program for each variation of every typeface. This includes different sizes, bolding, and other stylistic variations.
So in this case, if you had an italicized 12 point Times New Roman style, Times New Roman would be the typeface, and its individual variation (in this case 12 point size and italics) would be the font.
However, most people use “font” to refer to the typeface as well. So for simplicity's sake, we will use both terms interchangeably.
Can fonts be copyrighted? In the United States, fonts are protected under copyright. However, typefaces are not. However, they can be eligible for patent protection through a design patent. In addition, a font name can also be trademarked so you can't always use the name.
What this means is that you could basically recreate a typeface from scratch and name it something completely different, and in most cases, you could use it. Creating a font from scratch, however, is much easier said than done.
How to Legally Use Fonts
There are many companies out there that earn their revenue by creating and selling fonts – think of it like word art. In some cases, they will make it free in a certain way so people can see them and find them.
In this, font is like a stock photo. You can purchase a stock photo for your book cover, but you need to check the fine print to ensure you bought the correct license to sell it.
So make sure that whatever license you buy, it includes print publications as part of it.
For example, most of us know the basic fonts provided by Microsoft Word, such as Times New Roman. If you wanted to use Times New Roman in a print book or on your book cover, you could not do it for free, even though it is included in Microsoft Word.
Instead, you need to visit a reputable font marketplace, purchase a license that allows you to use Times New Roman in digital or print publications, and only then could you use it legally.
- Desktop Font License
- Digital Ads License
- Web Font License
- Mobile Application License
- Electronic Publication License
- Server License
If you read the fine print, it’s the “Desktop Font License” that allows you to use Times New Roman in print publications, which would allow you to use this font on KDP Print or IngramSpark. Some of the other licenses could be useful as well.
See this page for a decent breakdown of the different licenses for Times New Roman.
General Types of Font Licenses You Should Look Out For
There are a variety of font license types, as you can see in the Times New Roman example above, but most of the fonts that you encounter online will fall into one of three categories:
- Free For Personal Use
- Free for Personal and Commercial Use
- Requires the Purchase of a License
Let's break all three of these down.
1. Free for Personal Use
This means that you can use the font for anything you want as long as it remains in your personal use. You cannot use this font in any kind of product, including in an e-book, a book cover, or a logo.
If you want to use it for your own personal documents, in Microsoft Word, or creating memes to share on social media, that counts as personal use. But the moment you try to put that meme on a T-shirt and sell it for profit, that's where things get tricky.
Many fonts have a free option that is easily downloadable online. So you need to be careful when using any free fonts in a commercial item. Make sure to check first.
2. Free for Personal and Commercial Use
These are the holy grails of fonts to use. You can use them in any way you like, personally or commercially, and not have to worry about any legal repercussions.
While there are fewer of these, they come with less of a headache because you will never have to worry about being sued over them.
Just make sure you know for certain which fonts allow personal and commercial use for free.
Font Squirrel is a great place to find fonts like this.
3. Requires the Purchase of a License
Lastly, these are the fonts that make up most fonts out there: those with a paid license.
The reality is, if you want to use a font in your book or on your book cover, there is a good chance that you will have to pay for it.
Even if a font is free, chances are the free version is only for personal use. If you want to use it in a commercial project, it will cost money. The licenses can take many shapes. It may be that one license will give you access to everything, and you can use it multiple times for multiple clients, or it may be for one-time use or a very specific use type (like using the font in an e-book or a mobile app only).
For authors, you'll want to look for a license that allows for digital products or print publications or some variation of those phrases. If unsure, however, it's best to consult with legal help or to avoid it altogether.
Thankfully, some programs like Atticus only choose fonts that you have 100% access to use for free.
How to Tell If a Font Is Copyrighted
If you are unsure whether your font is copyrighted or not, there are three primary steps to find out:
- Step 1: Check for A “Readme.txt” File in Your Download
- Step 2: Check The Website You Downloaded It from for Licensing Details
- Step 3: Google the Specific Font
Let's walk you through each of these steps.
Step 1: Check for A “Readme.txt” File in Your Download
Most fonts come in a zipped folder, and most of these will have a readme.txt file within that folder.
If you are unsure about the license of your font, the best place to look is in that readme file. It may also be labeled as “license.txt”, “info.txt”, or some variation thereof.
If you are unable to find such a file, move on to step two.
Step 2: Check The Website You Downloaded It from for Licensing Details
There are many different marketplaces where you can buy specific fonts, and most of these will tell you what the licensing deals are for that font. If you bought a font through a specific marketplace, revisit that marketplace and see if it spells out what type of licensing agreement you have.
If you didn't buy the font from a specific website, or you can't find that information, then it's time to move on to step three.
Step 3: Google the Specific Font
If you haven't found the font license before now, googling it can be a simple way of discovering the details of its license.
The best way to do this is to search for the name of the font plus the word “license” or “commercial license”. For example: “Times New Roman commercial license”.
The only downside to this method is that it can lead to some sketchy websites that don't have the correct information. If you want to be absolutely sure, you can hire a lawyer, like we did when choosing the fonts for Atticus, or ensure that the website you are looking at is a reputable website.
Thankfully, in the next section, I will outline which websites are the best to discover if your font is legal to use, or if you have to buy an expensive license for it.
Additionally, you can check out the Microsoft Font Library for a list of all the fonts they use and info about their licenses.
How to Purchase Fonts
The best place to buy a font is through one of several reputable marketplace companies. These include:
- Font Squirrel
- Adobe Fonts
- Google Fonts
- Creative Market
I personally use Creative Market for a lot of my digital assets, including fonts, but fonts and typefaces are not the only thing that they provide.
Additionally, if you have Adobe's Creative Cloud, there are several hundred fonts that you can get there, all of which are licensed for e-books, print and online. This is a great resource if you are subscribed to the Creative Cloud, which runs about $50 a month per user.
Fonts You Can Use Free in Your Book
So what are some fonts that you can freely use? When doing research for Atticus, we actually hired a lawyer to help us know for sure what was and wasn't available. Among others, some of the more common fonts that are free to use, both for personal and commercial use, are the following:
|Cardo||Source Sans Pro||Cinzel|
|Baskerville||Young Serif||Emilys Candy|
|Open Sans||Anton||Great Vibes|
|Open Dyslexic||Audiowide||Helvetica Neue|
|PT Sans||Big Shoulders Display||Life Savers|
As stated, each of these fonts are included with Atticus specifically to help authors have peace of mind that a book generated in Atticus will not lead to copyright infringement over the fonts.
Fonts in Book Covers
One of the areas that self-published authors need to watch carefully are their book covers.
Most book covers use some kind of font, and even if the title is a custom design, it’s likely that the text on the back cover, the spine, or the author name are still an established font.
So who is responsible for ensuring that the fonts you use are compliant with copyright law? Is it the cover designer or the author?
Answer: the author.
If your designer has given you a book cover with one or more fonts on it, you need to find out what those fonts are, then purchase the license for it (assuming it is not free).
The easy way to do this is simply ask your designer what fonts they used, but you can also find out if you have the source file and you inspect the font in a program like Photoshop.
This may sound like a lot of hassle and extra money for just a few fonts, especially when the odds of you getting sued for it are minimal. But thankfully, a lot of fonts are inexpensive to buy, and some of the simpler fonts could also be swapped out for fonts you already own the licenses to.
Frequently Asked Questions
When choosing your font, there are a few other things to consider as you do so:
How much do fonts cost?
The cost of a font varies, but can run anywhere from a few dollars to about $500. It really depends on the font and its popularity. It may also vary depending on the number of variations that come with it, such as bold, narrow, or heavy versions.
What is the best font size for books?
Most books have a font size between 10 and 12 points. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction. However, large print books can be higher at 16 points and above.
What font is used in most books?
There is no specific font used in the majority of printed books, but there are a few that have similar styles overall. These include:
Garamond and Baskerville can both be found in Atticus.
Can I use free fonts?
With a few exceptions, many free fonts are only for personal use. That means you can download them and use them to test out the look of your book, but if you want to sell commercially, you will need to buy the license to that font.
Also know that some fonts, when not purchased through a reputable marketplace, can sometimes lead to viruses, or they were illegally copied. See the list of reputable marketplaces above.
What about book cover fonts?
If you purchased a book cover design from a book designer, and that cover included one or more fonts that require a license for commercial use, you will have to purchase the license. It is not enough that the book designer has the license, you also need one.
Can you use the default fonts that come with Microsoft Word?
When it comes to personal use, yes. However, if you want to publish your book on Amazon, you will need to purchase a license for any fonts that you use, unless they are a free font for personal and commercial use.
Whew! That was a lot to take in, and I apologize if you are freaking out because you just realize that you didn't have the licensing rights for the fonts in your book. Don't worry, you can easily change it, and there are thankfully few cases (none that I could find in my research) of indie authors getting into trouble with this.
However, we need to protect ourselves, and following the information in this article is a good way to start. Furthermore, you can use Atticus and be rest assured that all of the fonts used in your book file are free to use.
Because we want you to focus on the writing and not have to worry about potential legal problems.