Open Source Publishing – Graphic Design Caravan

Sans Guilt, it looks like the story continues

Fonts · Foundry (blog) · News · SansGuilt · Texts · Type · May 27th, 2011 ·

Do you remember that we sent a letter a few weeks ago. We are finally expecting an answer from our correspondent and we feel it is time to reveal the content of this letter. Feel free to react to this letter either on this blog, by mail or on any other type centric sites.

Open Source Publishing
Rue du Fortstraat 5
1060 Bruxelles, Belgium

Monotype Imaging headquarters
500 Unicorn Park Drive
Woburn, MA USA 01801

Brussels, 11 April 2011

Dear Monotype,

We are writing you because we just published Sans Guilt [1], which is a reinterpretation of the Gill Sans released under an Open Font license.

We are OSP [2], a design collective based in Brussels that has been working with Free and Open Source software since 2006.

We believe that the 71th anniversary of the death of Eric Gill implies that his work is now in the public domain. To mark this anniversary we decided to liberate the Gill Sans and make a free and open source release of it.

We created three variants from different sources. One was scanned from original drawings (Sans Guilt Drawing Based — DB), another from hand-printed letterpress (Sans Guilt Lead Based — LB) and a third had a digital file as a basis (Sans Guilt Monotype Based — MB). The work was done in collaboration with students from the Royal College of Art in London.

Our liberation of the Gill Sans raises legal and ethical questions surrounding proprietary font software and works of typography that are in the public domain. As designers, we can not answer those questions theoretically so the Sans Guilt project is an attempt at finding practical answers.

To us it seems that the central question about any font reinterpretation is that of identifying and transforming material sources. Throughout history fonts have always been adapted from previous renderings, often transposing the design from one technology to another.

In order to explore this historical context and to understand how to work with this complicated matter, we released Sans Guilt. The DB-variant is based on original drawings by Eric Gill that we found in the RCA library. The images were scanned and then traced using a custom software to produce PostScript outlines. The LB-variant started from the Gill Sans letterpress available at the RCA printshop. Students manually printed the movable type and than scanned the result.

The third variant is possibly the most problematic. Because to us the digital is material too, we wondered if we could use a digital source as a starting point for liberating the Gill Sans. For the MB-variant we set a text in a page layout software with a licensed Monotype Gill Sans. This text was then turned into a bitmap and ran through a software that converted each glyph back into a PostScript outline.

Although Gill Sans as a design work is in the public domain, the font software that we used to create the material sources for our reinterpretation is not. In the case of computer fonts there is a blurring of boundaries between technology and visual design. By turning the text into a bitmap image we did not reuse any part of the digital information of the Monotype Gill Sans itself. We believe that the bitmap is solely a representation of the design work of Eric Gill which we consider to be in the public domain since 2010.

With the creation of Sans Guilt and by writing you this letter we are trying to clarify the complicated legal matter around typographical heritage, technology and intellectual property and we are looking forward to discuss the implications with you.

Kind regards,


[1] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/foundry/sans-guilt
[2] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/about



  • 1. Luke Archer

    May 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I assume you did not get a response because the font files are basically unusable and therefore pose no real copyright threat to Monotype. You should just put up the real Monotype versions with a different name, and edited font info. Not only would this be more likely to provoke a reply, it would also highlight the real issue surrounding font copyright, i.e when is a font considered a copy?

  • 2. Barry Schwartz

    May 27, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Any US patents on Gill Sans would have expired long before 2010.

  • 3. Andy Fitzsimon

    Jun 2, 2011 at 9:43 am

    To be fair you have placed them in quite an awkward situation.

    I have no idea what their communications staff must be thinking but this is how I would react in the same position.

    1.) If we respond with positivity and endorsement of this creative project we gain a chance to build the popularity for one of our premium products while also enhancing the love of typography in the general community.

    2.) If our response is too motivating it could entice a coordinated effort to refine this font into a serious competitor for our offerings. worse; one that we publicly endorsed from the onset

    3.) If we publicly reject or scoff at these efforts we also run the risk of motivating an increase of quality around these fonts. worse; i’m not convinced the majority of our customers will be able to distinguish our differentiating qualities.

    4.) I’m going to say nothing and hopefully they will lose motivation and go away. My reasoning? We still have a healthy, established and predictable distribution channel which this open version of our font by itself seems unable to circumvent. Direct sales of just this individual font makes up a minority of our business anyway.

    5.) Whatever happens, I do not want to engage and motivate these people to continue their efforts however condemning them would be much worse; especially if it calls to light the now fragile legal ground for some of our properties.. Best to stay away from all of this… they’ll go away soon

  • 4. Andy Fitzsimon

    Jun 2, 2011 at 9:48 am

    I’d also add that there seems little profit any stakeholder from the community stands to gain with Sans Guilt. This alone confirms interest will eventually wear.

    Right now the ‘donate’ button on the Google web fonts library is Monotype’s biggest threat to the value of their products.