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Typefaces and letter styles are considered artworks by the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988, and are therefore protected by copyright.

That means when an artist such as Cassandre creates a particular letter style, then the entire font and each individual letter is protected.

The definition of "typeface"

A typeface can also be described as a letter style or font, and includes any ornamental motif used in printing.

Previous interpretations

Under the 1956 Copyright Act, copyright protection was taken to apply only to the design of individual letters and not the complete font. The 1988 Act protects all designs, whether for individual letters or fonts.

Limitations to copyright protection

The protection is limited, however. It is not an infringement to use the typeface in the ordinary course of typing, composing text, typesetting or printing, or possessing a computer or typewriter for the purpose of such use.

It is, however, an infringement to build, import or deal in equipment designed or adapted specifically to produce material in a particular typeface without licence.

Copyright protection might also be limited where the typeface is exploited industrially.

Fonts used within new artworks

Whether the use of existing fonts in such an artwork is an infringement of copyright must be considered on its own merit. Where an artist is using or copying commercially available typefaces, the new work should display originality of expression and a certain level of artistic skill and labour if it is to be protected by copyright. It is not sufficient to claim copyright exists simply because a work was created by an artist.

Simple uses of a pre-existing typeface to state a title or words and short phrases are more straightforward. If there is no other creativity, originality of expression or skill and labour involved, it is unlikely that artistic copyright applies.

Whether literary copyright applies

Literary copyright may apply when an artist uses a typeface, whether commercially available typeface or their own design, in creating a literary work such as a poster. If you have any questions about literary copyright you should contact the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).


This factsheet is offered as a general guide to the issues surrounding copyright in this area. It does not represent an exhaustive account. It is not intended to offer legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend you seek specialist advice for any specific circumstances.