I came across a question recently in a developer forum, and I felt it warranted broader exposure.
“What is the legality of embedding fonts in an app for distribution?”
This is a thorny issue. Not all fonts are licensed for use in all places. Arial specifically has a checkered past, as outlined in its Wikipedia page. Nevertheless, it is instructive to look at paragraph 12 of Monotype’s current End User License Agreement (EULA):
12. You may electronically distribute Font Software embedded in a “Personal or Internal Business Use” document (that is, a document other than a “Commercial Product” as defined herein) only when the Font Software embedded in such document (i) is in a static graphic image (for example, a “gif”) or an embedded electronic document, and (ii) is distributed in a secure format that permits only the viewing and printing (and not the editing, altering, enhancing, or modifying) of such static graphic image or embedded document. You may not embed Font Software in a Commercial Product without a separate written license from MI, and you may not embed Font Software in an electronic document or data file for any reason other than your own Personal or Internal Business Use.
The emphasis in the above paragraph is mine. With that kind of license, how should a developer proceed?
It turns out that Adobe sells a package called the Font Folio, which includes fonts both wholly owned by Adobe and also licensed from other foundries, including Monotype, who owns Arial. The licensing for those non-Adobe fonts in the Font Folio varies from typeface to typeface, and often includes different terms for print vs web vs video vs app inclusion. Those terms may also forbid alteration of the font in any way. These EULAs are written by the foundry and not by Adobe, and Adobe has no control over what the terms of a specific EULA will be for a licensed font. Arial has one of those licenses, by the way. You can read Adobe’s font EULAs here.
Adobe has a subset of the Font Folio called the Font Folio Select (FFS). It consists of the fonts that are wholly owned by Adobe and have the broadest license terms of any fonts in terms of how they can be used. Any font in the FFS can be used in print, in an app, in a SWF online, in video and more. They can also be modified, but there are some specific licensing considerations around modifications that you’ll want to investigate. The short of it is that if you modify a glyph in a font and then deploy that modified font in your company, you are no longer permitted to use the ORIGINAL font. If you want the original version AND the modified version at the same time, then you need to purchase another license for the original.
FFS is available to customers who purchase through licensing programs. It is not available as a boxed product through traditional retail outlets. Customers should contact their preferred reseller to learn more.
So, can you use Arial in your app? That depends on how you acquired Arial and the license that was in force when you got it. It is best in this case to NOT embed Arial in your app, but to allow the operating system to supply the resource. Every modern computer on the planet started life with Arial installed, so it’s a pretty safe bet that it resides on your customer’s computer. For other fonts, look closely at the EULA that came with that font. You may find that there is no limitation and you may find that there are explicit limitations. If you have some old fonts lying around, those EULAs tended to be pretty lenient until recently, because there was no idea of Rich Internet App or mobile app when they were struck. Those EULAs remain in force, so you might have some hidden gold in those old floppies out in your barn.