Hasbro Sued For Font Piracy On My Little Pony Merchandise

from the live-by-the-copyright,-die-by-the-copyright dept

Live by the copyright, die by the copyright, as I’ve said before. See, copyright protectionism is sort of like taking a moral stand: when someone asserts the importance of their copyright, they assert it for all copyrights. For most of us, this is not a problem, because we don’t spend a great deal of time bashing others over the head with the copyright cudgel. But when you’re Hasbro? Especially considering all of the many various actions taken by the company to shut down anything having to do with its My Little Pony property? Well, then it would be nice if the company might at least make sure it wasn’t committing copyright infringement in selling that property as well.

But that appears to be asking too much. Hasbro is finding itself the subject of a copyright infringement action over the font it uses on basically everything My Little Pony.

According to Font Brothers, American toy multinational Hasbro did so when it started to use the “Generation B” font for its My Little Pony products, without permission. The Generation B font was created by Harold Lohner and is commercially exploited by Font Brothers. One of the best known uses of the font is for the popular My Little Pony toys and videos. However, according to a complaint filed at a New York federal court Hasbro failed to obtain a proper license, so My Little Pony is using a pirated font.

From the complaint itself, it appears Hasbro was not only using the font internally without a license, but was distributing it to third parties as well.

Upon information and belief, Defendant Hasbro has used or instructed others to use unauthorized copies of the GENERATION B Font in the creation of, but not limited to, all products, goods, merchandise, television and film properties, and advertising materials connected with the “My Little Pony” product line and by way of third party vendors authorized to sell “My Little Pony” branded goods bearing the term “My Little Pony” using the GENERATION B Font, showings of which are annexed hereto as Exhibit D.

Upon information and belief, Defendant Hasbro has not purchased the special license from Font Brothers which authorizes the use of the GENERATION B font software as a resource for use on goods for sale and for distribution to third parties or in the creation of its various HASBRO “My Little Pony” branded goods, products, and/or services.

Oops. The complaint goes on to note that Hasbro had repeatedly been made aware of the lack of license and authorization for the font, but that the company had failed to even bother to respond. Keep in mind that the company appears to have used this font on tons of products and merchandise, including on its own site. And distributed it as well. All while being aware that it was unathorized to do so. Sort of puts a couple of fan-made My Little Pony games into perspectrive, doesn’t it?

And, lest you think that this is all some misunderstanding in which Hasbro used a different font that was somewhat simliar to GENERATION B:

While small differences can sometimes be tricky to prove that an unauthorized font is used, in this case it is also used on Hasbro’s website. The stylesheet of the website specifically mentions the Generation B and a copy of the font stored and distributed through Hasbro’s servers.

Hasbro has since removed all uses of the font from its website, which rings more as an admission at this point than complying with any requests. And, sure, maybe super-aggressive copyright protection over the use of fonts can be a little silly at times, but it’s going to be hard to find any friends to fight in your corner when you’ve been beating everyone over the head with copyright all these years.

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Companies: hasbro

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Comments on “Hasbro Sued For Font Piracy On My Little Pony Merchandise”

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52 Comments
Doug D says:

Huh! I wonder if they’ll switch to “Celestia Medium Redux”, a fan-made font meant to remind folks of the font the show uses without directly copying it.

http://www.mattyhex.net/CMR/?id=about

Looks like the person behind this font actually did better coordination with Harold Lohner than Hasbro did? I am officially amused.

(If memory serves, I actually wrote a script that automatically wraps TTF files in iOS provisioning profiles just so I could more easily install that specific font on an iPad. Though I didn’t share that work until “SansBullshitSans” came about.)

Anonymous Coward says:

37 CFR 202.1(e)

37 CFR §202.1 Material not subject to copyright.

(e) Typeface as typeface.

Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition, Chapter 900, pp.13-14

906.4 Typeface, Typefont, Lettering, Calligraphy, and Typographic Ornamentation

As a general rule, typeface, typefont, lettering, calligraphy, and typographic ornamentation See are id. not registrable. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a), (e). These elements are mere variations of uncopyrightable letters or words, which in turn are the building blocks of expression. The Office typically refuses claims based on individual alphabetic or numbering characters, sets or fonts of related characters, fanciful lettering and calligraphy, or other forms of typeface. This is true regardless of how novel and creative the shape and form of the typeface characters may be. A typeface character cannot be analogized to a work of art, because the creative aspects of the character (if any) cannot be separated from the utilitarian nature of that character. . . .

The Office may register a computer program that creates or uses certain typeface or typefont designs, but the registration covers only the source code that generates these designs, not the typeface, typefont, lettering, or calligraphy itself. For a general discussion of computer programs that generate typeface designs, see Chapter 700, Section 723. . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 37 CFR 202.1(e)

You are right to point this out. However…

“… the Copyright Office is persuaded that creating scalable typefonts using already-digitized typeface represents a significant change in the industry since our previous [September 29, 1988] Policy Decision. We are also persuaded that computer programs designed for generating typeface in conjunction with low resolution and other printing devices may involve original computer instructions entitled protection under the Copyright Act. For example, the creation of scalable font output programs to produce harmonious fonts consisting of hundreds of characters typically involves many decisions in drafting the instructions that drive the printer. The expression of these decisions is neither limited by the unprotectable shape of the letters nor functionally mandated. This expression, assuming it meets the usual standard of authorship, is thus registerable as a computer program.” 57 FR 6202.”

Bitmap fonts are not copyrightable. Scaleable ones are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 37 CFR 202.1(e)

Bitmap fonts are not copyrightable. Scaleable ones are.

Your concluding line is a very sloppy generalization. Intolerably sloppy in the circumstances. Even though the FAQ you’re quoting does note:

…the unprotectable shape of the letters…

Look closely at the second paragraph that I extracted from the Copyright Office Compedium:

… the registration covers only the source code that generates these designs, not the typeface, typefont, lettering, or calligraphy itself.

Even a scaleable font is not copyrightable as typeface. The generating instructions may indeed be copyrightable code, but in all cases, that code must be carefully distinguished from the typeface itself.

Doug D says:

Re: Re: Re:2 37 CFR 202.1(e)

In the US: fonts can be owned, just not via copyright. Copyright is not the only kind of intellectual property. They’re subject to design patents.

(Design patents are not without problem, but they’re much less problematic than copyright. There’s less international coordination for them, and their duration is considerably shorter.)

Dingledore the Flabberghaster says:

Re: Re: Re: 37 CFR 202.1(e)

And, as is clear from the article, we’re talking about the generating instructions here. The generation instructions are stored in a file called GenerationB.otf.

There is nothing to stop people creating fonts that look very similar to existing font families. That is done all the time. However, creating a full font family is a massive job and frequently the similar free fonts don’t have the detail and finesse of the licenced one.

You’re trying to confuse a visual representation of a font – which can’t be copyrighted in the same way you can’t copyright your own handwriting – with a file that defines the instructions to recreate that font face and spacings consistently – which can be copyrighted.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 37 CFR 202.1(e)

OK, then. Hasbro could expend significant effort to develop it’s own look-alike font, using originally, newly created instructions which drive the adjustments of the shapes as the font is scaled to fit in different numbers of pixels.

The look may not be protectable, but the font, which does contain a form of computer software instructions, is protectable. Hasbro HAS distributed and used unauthorized copies of that font software.

Nomad of Norad says:

Re: 37 CFR 202.1(e)

This is what absolutely flabbergasts me about this lawsuit. A font is something meant to be used as a component in a construct, such as the lettering on the pages of a dead-tree edition of WAR AND PEACE. If they demand that you pay by page-produced in that type font of every page of every physical copy of WAR AND PEACE produced, then you’ve negated the main purpose of that type font existing: as a tool used in the making of something else (i.e. that book). To put it another way, the purpose of a type font isn’t for the admiration of the type font as some sort of object de art, its purpose is for the reading of the text that just happens to have been made up of that type font, but could have as easily been made of any other similar type font. If a type font company pulled a stunt like that with, say, Barnes and Noble, or Tor Books, i.e. demand that they pay them by linear FOOT for the use of their font… well, lets just say it probably wouldn’t end well for the type font company, particularly since no other company would do business ever again with that type font company, or use that particular type font again. They’d all switch to a different font and leave that company in their dust to die an ignoble death.

In any event, as has been pointed out here… by law, type setting cannot be copyrighted, probably for exactly the above reason: to prevent some greedy type font company from after the fact demanding $100-a-book royalties for the use of their font in all those sold copies of WAR AND PEACE.

That’s probably also why Hasbro ignored all the letters from that company saying they hadn’t licensed the use of it in all their products. Hasbro probably looked at the letters and said, “What sort of ludicrous, ignoramus, bullshit is this? Type setting is NOT copyrightable! It explicitly says so right there in the copyright law! Go pound sand!” And they promptly circular-filed the letters.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean I absolve Hasbro of being a heavy handed copyright/trademark extremism company, because they really are, but the case of the type fonts, I think they’re in the right. I about blew a frakking gasket when I originally saw the news of this, for precisely the reasons outlined above. This is purely greed on the part of the type font company. Nothing else. The fact that Hasbro has shown themselves to also be greedy (in that they bight the fan-based hands that feed them, by stomping on fan-made MLP stuff) is neither here nor there.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Font of earnings?

The piece I read on this the other day mentioned millions in liability. I have a hard time seeing that as while the font contributes to the whole product, it is far from the whole product. So what in reality does a font contribute to the whole income?

The only excuse I can think of might be statutory damages, but still.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Font of earnings?

Statutory damages are capped at $150,000 per work infringed for willful infringement, and I presume there’s not more than a small handful of font file works (not copies!) being infringed, so statutory damages don’t seem to get to millions either.

Yea, I’m not seeing millions in actual damages, but I’ve no informed clue of font licensing on that scale either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hasbro probably did have a broadcast license at least

Font Bros’ web page for Generation B used to boast that it was “the official My Little Pony font”. It was like that for at least 4 years (the earliest snapshot I could find), but shortly after this story hit the web they changed the description and removed all mention of MLP. Clearly Font Bros. has been well aware of the font’s use on TV the entire time, so I find it hard to believe that Hasbro didn’t at the very least buy a commercial broadcast license for the font all those years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

..and what about the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted intellectual property (ie. the Generation B font file) hasbro was distributing to their users?

if it was, in fact, not properly licensed by hasbro and if recent copyright case rulings are anything to go by, i’d expect hasbro to be run out of business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright misuse

Copyright misuse is the attempt, whether by licensing or otherwise, to expand the limited monopoly granted by a copyright beyond the bounds set by public policy.

The current law, practice, and policy firmly places typefaces outside the scope of copyright. Now, at the same time, a computer program which generates a typeface may be copyrightable and licensable as a program. But every attempt to leverage license terms for a computer program in order to obtain an improper monopoly in uncopyrightable typeface —ought to be condemned as misuse.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Copyright misuse

Maybe the owners of GenerationB.otf are NOT trying to create an improper monopoly on the look of the output of their GenerationB.otf font, with its embedded computer instructions that decide how to adjust the font vectors to fit different resolutions of pixels.

But maybe they ARE trying to protect their GenerationB.otf file which Hasbro has used, and distributed, without a license.

Hasbro could expend the significant resources to develop their own vector type face font that looks the same. But they didn’t. Or they could have licensed the one they used, but they didn’t.

(Elsewhere in this thread, it is discussed that there is another look-alike font that was independently developed.)

Doug D says:

The actual specific asset being used, like a TTF file distributed to deliver “Generation B” to people, can be protected by copyright.

The visual design of the font *itself* cannot — that’s (potentially) subject to a design patent, but not copyright.

I don’t know if “Generation B” has a design patent, or when it expires. But considering the way the specific font was referenced on the web site, part of what’s going on here would appear not to be complete bullshit — looks to me like there was an actual copyright violation there.

As for the merchandise, that’s less clear. If the design patent has expired and they used a “clean room implementation” so to speak, not using the TTF or other file under copyright without permission… there *might* be no “there” there, from a legal standpoint.

Nomad of Norad says:

Re: Re:

At that, I have seen plenty of My Little Pony avatars on the virtual world of Second Life, and there’s a number of people who roleplay as (their own invented) pony characters with them. I actually have one of those avs in my inventory there that I’ve worn on rare occasions, which I bought simply because it looked so cute. I’ve never actually watched the show, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

A lot of people here don’t seem to understand that it’s VERY likely (and we have one such instance documented) that Hasbro simply copy-pasted the “GenerationB.otf” file to all those who work on the merchandise.

Giant companies like Hasbro feel that, in being giant, they’re doing others “a favor” by using (and automatically locking) their work for very little or free.

Don’t forget that typeface can be trademarked when used in conjunction with a color and phrase.
Hasbro could theoretically trademark (if it hasn’t already) the phrase “Friendship is Magic” written using GenerationB.otf, colored in pink.

Lupius (profile) says:

The hilarious part of this story is that Hasbro could have avoided all of the negative publicity associated with this copyright infringement claim, by paying a one-time fee of $19.95 USD. Having read through all of the ToS and licensing agreements associated with buying access to a font from Font Bros, just buying the license once would have covered just about all of the different purposes to which Hasbro might have applied their licensed font.

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