We used to have more letters


This is a rough and incomplete translation of this news article, titled “We used to have more letters”.

Please excuse for the bad quality, although I’m entirely up for correction. In order to translate this I used a Japanese news article quoting this as well as Japanese and English Google translations, and of course, the original article itself. Note that I’m not fully able to read Chinese and am aware that this might contain a lot of error. I also omitted the parts I regarded unnecessary or the ones I could not translate.

Here starts the article.

There are 421 Chinese fonts whereas there are 2973 Japanese.

Lots of font foundries pessimistically think that the cold-hearted judgement regarding the logo of P&G’s shampoo 飄柔 (Rejoice) will further contribute to the already grave font piracy situation, and even lamented that typeface design is dead.

Font piracy squeezes the lives of the font industry, and a number of competent (or functional) foundries reduced from dozens to several, including Founder (方正) and Han-yi (汉仪), latter of which gained popularity between 2002 and 2010.

Since 2004, a disabled homeless Cuixian Ren has earned money by street calligraphy, earning 700 to 800 RMB (approximately £70 to £80) a month. After his works were posted online, a staff of Founder came to him in Qingdao, asked him to write 1000 characters so that they could make a typeface out of them, and offered him 50,000 RMB (£5,000) in return. It hasn’t been released yet.

Based on that 1000 characters, Founder could make additional 5763 characters, a total of which meets the Chinese national standard simplified Chinese character set (GB 2312-80) which covers commonly used characters. Then they would market it calling “Founder’s Xianren Simplified (方正显仁简体)”.

When the news came out, people’s first reaction was “Fonts can bring money”.

Behind this caused another exclaim: font copyright. As Founder previously had a copyright lawsuit, lots of people also saw that it was “blinded by greed”.

It is not necessarily the font industry greed, but this industry has been shrinking rapidly, resulting in the decline of typeface design students.

On 23rd April 2012, the Chinese Information Processing Society and a font company proposed a modified draft of Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China, claiming that a digital typeface should be protected as an artwork as well as computer software.

You cannot copyright “巴”

In 2007, Founder found an extensive use of its five fonts including Northern Wei Regular Script (北魏楷书) Paper-cut (剪纸), Thin Sans Serif (细黑) in the game World of Warcraft, all of which were unlicensed. Founder prosecuted Blizzard and its Chinese branch for copyright violations, which was the first case of China-US digital intellectual property rights.

At the first instance judgement acknowledged that the five fonts are protected by copyright laws of artworks, and the defendant has infringed the right of reproduction, distribution and obligation to remunerate. The verdict was that Blizzard should compensate 140 million RMB and litigation expenses. However, it did not recognise the fonts as softwares, therefore cannot be protected under Computer Software Protection Regulations. The ongoing second instance mainly focuses on the amount of compensation.

Okay, font can be protected as an artwork but not software. Does that make a big difference?

In 2008 Founder found a Procter & Gamble shampoo bottle, whose logo 飘柔 (Rejoice) used its font Rough Qian Simplified (?) (粗倩简体) without paying a penny. Founder originally claimed 50 million RMB but eventually lost at the second instance which upheld the first. The first judgement was: the font satisfies the requirement of copyright law and deserves protection, however each individual character in it does not (Toshi’s note: WTF?). The second instance avoided the discussion of the copyright on a character level, and judged that P&G had been granted that “implied license”. So Founder lost (Toshi’s note: That means the use of unlicensed font is legal. WTF?).

Vice president of Founder’s font business unit Huang Xuejun described the legal status that font industry faces as chaos. In each judgment of copyright infringement lawsuits of various fonts there is no consistent logic, but sometimes even contradictory.

A glyph is a sign drawn by a font designer(s), whose process is a creative one. A font software is a set of these glyphs and instructions for the user to display characters in his/her work. In other words, a glyph is an offspring of two professional works: the font designer’s creation and engineer’s program. If a font cannot be protected as a creative artwork, the designer’s rights cannot be guaranteed and no one will want to make a font. If it cannot be protected as a computer program, the same goes for engineers.

In the same wear Founder lost the P&G case, Nanjing-based foundry Han-yi lost the individual-character-copyright cases against Kunshan-based, and Shanghai-based companies. The latter of which was the unlicensed use of Han-yi’s font in a logo of a crib called 笑巴喜. The verdict was that the use of two characters were illegal (笑 and 喜) and 巴 was too simple to be regarded as an artwork. The defendant was obliged to compensate 28,000 RMB regarding the use of those two characters and cease their use.

14 USD or a few RMB per character?

The character set of japanese fonts are defined by Japanese Industry Standard (JIS), whose first and second level coverage is over 6300, which is close to GB 2312-80 character set. But so far only 421 Chinese fonts exist whereas there are 2973 Japanese fonts.

In 1987, a 25-year-old type designer Lu Huaping from Shanghai Institute of Printing Technology submitted a typeface of 100 characters to Morisawa international typeface competition and won the first prize, and he was the first Chinese winner. The original prize money was 1 million JPY, but instead the daring Huaping got unprecedentedly 3 million. Morisawa asked Huaping to finish the entire font. During 1988 to 89 he drew more than 8,000 characters, which would make 14 USD per character.

The 1990s was the golden age of Chinese font design since changes in typesetting technology and computerisation created a huge demand for new fonts. There were many vendors from big to small, many of whose systems incompatible to each other, which also resulted in new font production. At that time there were 100 to 130 typefaces existed.

Eventually the font compatibility issues were resolved, the design process were cracked, and pirated fonts kept popping up. In 2003 Founder took the first legal fight against font piracy. Prior to this, piracy had been already common in the font industry, but the small font companies generally chose to keep silent.

Font piracy squeeze the lives of the font industry, and foundries with a real production scale reduced from dozens to several, including Founder and Han-Yi. Han-yi was founded in 1993, released the first batch of 56 Chinese fonts in 1995, and boasted the Asia’s largest Chinese type library. From 2002 to 2010 its size grew up to 130 typefaces, but nothing followed afterwards. In the recent decade, almost no customer bothers to license the Han-yi fonts.

In 2001, in the interview with Luhua Ping from Shanghai, a Hong Kong-based designer Liu Jie lamented that typeface design is not worth a few cents and you cannot make a living. “Who wants to do such an unprofitable job?” Lu Huaping has completely left behind the font design industry.

Every letter counts

“We should educate the public that font is an intellectual property and should be protected”, said Huang Xuejun. “People want designers to make more typefaces to enrich their life and decorate the city while being unwilling to pay for the typefaces, although it is a widely accepted concept outside China.”

Recently Founder posted 10 minutes of video taking the font used in Rejoice logo as an example, and described the design and production process of a font.

“We need to deal with 6763 characters in a font”, says the typeface designer Zhu Zhiwei from Founder to the reporter. GBK character set includes 21003 characters (Toshi’s note: GBK is an extended GB 2312). With two assistants, a well known Japanese typeface designer Isao Suzuki has spent ten years to develop AXIS Mincho.

(Toshi’s note: large part was omitted, which explains how laborious Chinese font development is, mentioning drawing, coding and selling retail fonts.)

As the largest foundry, the main source of income of Founders is decided into two. First, the publishing industry. Offering 100 typefaces to big newspaper companies it gains 50,000 RMB annually, while gaining 20,000 from smaller companies. It offers various scheme for magazine and book publishers. The other source is the custom jobs from clients, including Microsoft, Samsung, Coca-Cola and so on. These two incomes are roughly half and half.

Founder does sell retail font softwares to individual users, but because of the stubborn piracy habits, this part of the revenue is almost negligible. Search result of 粗倩简体 typeface on Baidu (Chinese search engine) reaches 2.5 million, against which the company is powerless.

In contrast, US based foundry Monotype Imaging reported the last year’s income as more than 100 million USD, and has listed on Nasdaq. Its library includes 100 of traditional simplified Chinese typefaces.

You might only get ugly fonts

(Toshi’s note: at this point I was very tired and sleepy. I’ll just bullet point the summaries of the paragraphs I regard relevant or interesting.)

Some fonts are sold at 10 USD or even less. While designers are doing their best to get a money in any possible way, these fast-food fonts will only last for a very short period of time, and blind users will fill the city with street signs using these ugly fonts, which is a pollution to the eye.

Under current environment, Founder is only capable of supporting its 80 employees. Japanese font design industry has developed along with the evolution of publishing industry and copyright protection, as well as professional institutions, academic institutions for basic typography research, which Chinese industry cannot afford.