Open Source Publishing – Graphic Design Caravan

An update on the status of Utopia

Type · July 9th, 2008 ·

As you might have gathered from Thomas Phinney’s latest comment on our post The Status of Utopia, Adobe will not re-release Utopia under an Open Font License. It doesn’t mean though the font cannot be studied, copied, modified and distributed: “Although changing the license would make it easier for folks who find licenses confusing and don’t want to read them” writes Phinney in an e-mail, “my conclusion was that the existing license was close enough to open source for most people’s actual usage, if not for their brains 🙂

And indeed, when you read carefully, the existing license is peculiar, but in fact open. It starts with allowing TeX users to make modifications: “Adobe also grants to the TeX Users Group a license to modify the Software for any purpose and redistribute such modifications, for any purpose and royalty-free, provided that the modified Software shall not use the font name(s) or trademark(s)“, and thanks to Karl Berry, TUG President, this invitation is extended to “any and all interested parties.1

On the one hand, the Utopia license is an interesting read, a narrative account of changing technologies, people and ideas, contained in it’s particular phrasing and structure. But on the other hand, such a labyrinth license hardly contributes to a typographic practice where designers open up about their appropriations and affiliations. It is not that we don’t want to make an effort (hence this series of posts), but if it was all somehow a bit more inviting and explicit, it would be easier to make a difference to the culture of fear that surrounds the author rights management of fonts.

Another argument for a more standardized licensing solution, is discussed in the margins of the Open Font Library mailinglist. Sticking to OFL-compatible licenses that are both machine and human readable would facilitate the embedding of fonts in web pages.2 The idea is, that fonts uploaded to the Open Font Library in the future can be ‘served’ to web pages anywhere, which could motivate typographers to release their fonts in the public domain or under an OFL.3

Utopia was designed by typedesigner Robert Slimbach in 1989 for Adobe and it is this version that was donated to the X-consortium, now X-org foundation, an open source implementation of the X Window System. Like Bitstream Charter, donated to the X-org foundation in 19914, Utopia exists both as an open and as a proprietary font, sold by Adobe under a conventional license. The latter is a version that Slimbach heavily reworked as part of it’s conversion to the Open Type Format.5 So if you plan to modify, use or redistribute Utopia, check whether you start from the open version, which is downloadable from the TUG website in .pfb format:

In 2006, Adobe re-licensed the open version of Utopia to the TeX Users Group, under similar terms as stated in the original license, but now explicitly clarifying that modifying the fonts, and redistributing modified versions, was allowed. Apparently, this was always the intent but the original wording was ambiguous.6

At this time, Adobe has no plans to release other fonts under open license terms. Nor do they have any other fonts currently available under anything resembling an open source license. But, “Things change quickly, sometimes“, Thomas Phinney writes.

Of course we’re already thinking about many things we could do with Utopia, and are even more curious about what you might make of it.

Keep us posted on your modifications!

  1. License for the Utopia Typeface: http://archive.cs.uu.nl/mirror/CTAN/fonts/utopia/LICENSE-utopia.txt []
  2. The so-called @font-face solution is promoted by Håkon Wium Lie, W3C member and CTO of the Opera browser: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/cssatten. Opera is shipped with the Adobe Creative Suite by the way… []
  3. Scroll down to the interesting discussion between Thomas Phinney and Dave Crossland on intellectual property, DRM and embedding fonts: http://blogs.adobe.com/typblography/2007/11/web_fonts_1.html []
  4. See our earlier post on the status of Bitstream Charter: http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/?p=11 []
  5. David Lemon on the Typo-L mailinglist: https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0305&L=TYPO-L&P=14185 []
  6. See the Read Me included with Utopia available from the Tex User Group website: http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/fonts/utopia/ []

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  • 1. FeIZocE

    Jul 9, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    I mentioned Thomas’ comment on my blog with some kind of regrets. Not that I suspect this license to be restrictive, but to my mind it’s a pity that the OFL will not include such a famous font (though not the latter version) in its library.
    Anyway, the license is really close to open source licenses. That’s still a big step. Thanks Thomas 🙂

  • 2. Madcrow

    Aug 1, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    To me, the biggest disappointment wasn’t that Adobe won’t license Utopia under the OFL, but that they have no plans to ever freely release any OTHER fonts under any license. While the situation isn’t TOO dire these days, what with URW having donated a complete set of “Basic” fonts under the GPL and another, larger, set of fonts under the AFPL and all, but still…

  • 3. danny

    Feb 4, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    so to clarify – if I want to take the TUG .pfb version of Utopia and make an OpenType version, just a straight conversion with FontForge without any modifications, can I distribute this .otf version as “Utopia”?