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<h1> You need to copy to understand</h1>
<p><strong>August 2006</strong>. One of the original co-conspirators of
the OSP adventure is the Brussels graphiste going under the name
Harrisson. His interest in Open Source software flows with the culture of
exchange that keeps the off-centre music scene alive, as well as with the
humanist tradition persistingly present in contemporary typography.
Harrisson&#8217;s visual frame of reference is eclectic and vibrant,
including modernist giants, vernacular design, local typographic culture,
classic painting, drawing and graffiti. Too much food for one
conversation.</p>
<p class="fs">You could say that 'A typeface is entirely derivative', but
others argue, that maybe the alphabet is, but not the interpretations of
it.</p>
<p class="hh">The main point of typography and ownership today is that
there is a blurred border between language and letters. So: now you can
own the &#8216;shape&#8217; of a letter. Traditionally, the way
typographers made a living was by buying (more or less expensive) lead
fonts, and with this tool they printed books and got paid for that. They
got paid for the typesetting, not for the type. That was the work of the
foundries. Today, thanks to the digital tools, you can easily switch
between type design, type setting and graphic design.</p>
<p class="fs">What about the idea that fonts might be the most
&#8216;pirated&#8217; digital object possible? Copying is much more
difficult when you&#8217;ve got lead type to handle!</p>
<p class="hh">Yes, digitalisation changed the rules. Just as <tt>.mp3</tt>
changed the philosophy of music. But in typography, there is a strange
confrontation between this flux of copied information, piracy and old
rules of ownership from the past.</p>
<p class="fs">Do you think the culture of sharing fonts changed? Or: the
culture of distributing them? If you look at most licences for fonts, they
are extremely restrictive. Even 99% of free fonts do not allow derivative
works.</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/font_message2.pdf side
0.9 0 -->
<p class="hh">The public good culture is paradoxically not often there. Or
at least the economical model of living with public good idea is not very
developed. While I think typography, historically, is always seen as a way
to share knowledge. Humanist stuff.</p>
<blockquote>The art and craft of typeface design is currently headed for
extinction due to the illegal proliferation of font software, piracy, and
general disregard for proper licensing etiquette. <sup><a
href="#b026324c">1</a></sup></blockquote>
<p class="hh">Emigr&#233;&#8230; Did they not live from the copyrights of
fonts?!</p>
<p class="fs">You are right. They are like a commercial record company.
Can you imagine what would happen if you would open up the typographic
trade &#8211; to &#8216;Open Source&#8217; this economy? Stop chasing
piracy and allow users to embed, study, copy, modify and redistribute
typefaces?</p>
<p class="hh">Well we are not that far from this in fact. Every designer
has at least 500 fonts on their computer, not licenced, but copied because
it would be impossible to pay for!</p>
<p class="fs">Even the distribution model of fonts is very peer-to-peer as
well. The reality might come close, but font licences tell a different
story.</p>
<blockquote>I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be
expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied.
Therefore, I believe that any business-model that depends on your bits not
being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are
like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on
living on the sides of active volcanoes. <sup><a
href="#26ab0db9">2</a></sup></blockquote>
<p>I am not saying all fonts should be open, but it is just that it would
be interesting when type designers were testing and experimenting with
other ways of developing and distributing type, with another economy.</p>
<p class="hh">Yes, but fonts have a much more reduced user community than
music or bookpublishing, so old rules stay.</p>
<p class="fs">Is that it? I am surprised to see that almost all
typographers and foundries take the &#8216;piracy is a crime&#8217; side
on this issue. While typographers are early and enthusiastic adopters of
computer technology, they have not taken much from the collaborative
culture that came with it.</p>
<p class="hh">This is the &#8216;tradition&#8217; typography inherited.
Typography was one of the first laboratories for fractioning work for
efficiency. It was one of the first modern industries, and has developed a
really deep culture where it is not easy to set doubts in. 500 years of
tradition and only 20 years of computers. The complexity comes from the
fact it is influenced by a multiple series of elements, from history and
tradition to the latest technologies. But it is always related to an
economic production system, so property and
&#8216;secrets-of-the-trade&#8217; have a big influence on it.</p>
<p class="fs">I think it is important to remember how the current culture
of (not) sharing fonts is linked to its history. But books have been made
for quite a while too.</p>
<p class="hh">Open Source systems may be not so much influencing
distribution, licences and economic models in typography, but can set
original questions to this problematic of digital type. Old tools and
histories are not reliable anymore.</p>
<p class="fs">Yes. with networked software it is rather obvious that it is
useful to work together. I try to understand how this works with respect
to making a font. Would that work?</p>
<p class="hh">Collaborative type is extremely important now, I think. The
globalisation of computer systems sets the language of typography in a new
dimension. We use computers in Belgium and in China. Same hardware. But
language is the problem! A French typographer might not be the best person
to define a Vietnamese font. Collaborativity is necessary! Pierre
Huyghebaert told me he once designed an Arabic font when he was in
Lebanon. For him, the font was legible, but nobody there was able to read
it.</p>
<p class="fs">But how would you collaborate than? I mean&#8230; what would
be the reason for a French typographer to collaborate with one from China?
What would that bring? I&#8217;m imagining some kind of hybrid
result&#8230; kind of interesting.</p>
<p class="hh">Again, sharing. We all have the idea that English is the
modern Latin, and if we are not careful the future of computers will
result in a language reductionism.</p>
<p class="fs">What interest me in Open Source, is the potential for
&#8216;biodiversity&#8217;.</p>
<p class="hh">I partially agree, and the Open Source idea contradicts the
reductionist approach by giving more importance to local knowledge. A
collaboration between an Arabic typographer and a French one can be to
work on tools that allow both languages to co-exist. LaTeX permits that,
for example. Not QuarkXpress!</p>
<p class="fs">Where does your interest in typography actually come
from?</p>
<p class="hh">I think I first looked at comic books, and then started
doodling in the margins of schoolbooks. As a teenager, I used to reproduce
film titles such as Aliens, Terminator or other sci-fi high-octane
typographic titles.</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/terminator.svg inline 0.8
0 -->
<p>Basically, I&#8217;m a forger! In writing, you need to copy to
understand. Thats an old necessity. If you use a typeface, you express
something. You&#8217;re putting drawings of letters next to each other to
compose a word/text. A drawing is always emotionally charged, which gives
color (or taste) to the message. You need to know what&#8217;s inside a
font to know what it expresses.</p>
<p class="fs">How do you find out what&#8217;s inside?</p>
<p class="hh">By reproducing letters, and using them. A Gill Sans does not
have the same emotional load as a Bodoni. To understand a font is
complicated, because it refers to almost every field in culture. The
banners behind G.W. Bush communicate more than just &#8216;Mission
Accomplished&#8217;. Typefaces carry a &#8216;meta language&#8217;.</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/bush.svg inline 0.9 0 -->
<p class="fs">It is truly embedded content</p>
<p class="hh">Exactly! It is still very difficult to bridge the gap
between personal emotions and programming a font. Moreover, there are
different approaches, from stroke design to software that generates fonts.
And typography is standardisation. The first digital fonts are drawn fixed
shapes, letter by letter, &#8216;outstrokes&#8217;. But there is another
approach where the letters are traced by the computer. It needs software
to be generated. In Autocad, letters are &#8216;innerstroke&#8217; that
can vary of weight. Letterrors&#8217; Beowolf <sup><a
href="#6d7fce9f">3</a></sup> is also an example of that kind of approach.
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/beowolf.svg side 0.7 0
-->It&#8217;s a very interesting way to work, but the font depends on the
platform it goes with. Beowolf only works on OS9. It also set the question
of copyright very far. It&#8217;s a case study in itself.</p>
<p class="fs">So it means, the font is software in fact?</p>
<p class="hh">Yes, but the interdependence between font and operating
systems is very strong, contrary to a fixed format such as TrueType. For
printed matter, this is much more complicated to achieve. There are
in-between formats, such as Multiple Master Technology for example. It
basically means, that you have 2 shapes for 1 glyph, and you can set an
&#8216;alternative&#8217; shape between the 2 shapes. At Adobe they still
do not understand why it was (and still is) a failure&#8230;</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/muniverse_globe_w_MOD.svg
inline 1 0 -->
<p class="fs">I really like this idea&#8230; to have more than one master.
Imagine you own one master and I own the other and than we adjust and
tweak from different sides. That would be real collaborative type! Could
&#8216;multiple&#8217; mean more than one you think?</p>
<p class="hh">It is a bit more complicated than drawing a simple font in
Fontographer or Fontforge. Pierre told me that the MM feature is still
available in Adobe Illustrator, but that it is used very seldomly.
Multiple Master fonts are also a bit complicated to use. I think there
were a lot of bugs first, and then you need to be a skilled designer to
give these fonts a nice render. I never heard of an alternative use of it,
with drawing or so. In the end it was probably never a success because of
the software dependency.</p>
<p class="fs">While I always thought of fonts as extremely cross media. Do
you remember which classic font was basically the average between many
well-known fonts? Frutiger?</p>
<p class="hh">Fonts are Culture Capsules! It was Adrian Frutiger. But he
wasn&#8217;t the only one to try&#8230; It was a research for the Univers
font I think. Here again we meet this paradox of typography: a
standardisation of language generating cultural complexity.</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/Univers_Specimen.svg side
0.5 0 -->
<p class="fs">Univers. That makes sense. Amazing to see those examples
together. It seems digital typography got stuck at some point, and I think
some of the ideas and practices that are current in Open Source could help
break out of it.</p>
<p class="hh">Yes of course. And it is almost virgin space.</p>
<p class="fs">In 2003 the Danish government released 'Union', a font that
could be freely used for publications concerning Danish culture. I find
this an intrigueing idea, that a font could be seen as some kind of
&#8216;public good&#8217;.</p>
<!-- var/figures/you_need_to_copy_to_understand/union.svg inline 0.7 0 -->
<p class="hh">I am convinced that knowledge needs to be open&#8230;
(speaking as the son of a teacher here!). One medium for knowledge is
language and its atoms are letters.</p>
<p class="fs">But if information wants to be free, does that mean that
design needs to be free too? Is there information possible without
design?</p>
<p class="hh">This is why I like books. Because it&#8217;s a mix between
information and beauty &#8211; or can be. Pfff, there is nothing without
design&#8230; It is like is there something without language, no?</p>
<hr/>
<ol>
<li id="b026324c"> http://redesign.emigre.com/FAQ.php </li>
<li id="26ab0db9"> Cory Doctorow in http://craphound.com/bio.php </li>
<li id="6d7fce9f"> Instead of recreating a fixed outline or bitmap, the
Randomfont redefines its outlines every time they are called for.
http://letterror.com/writing/is-best-really-better </li>
</ol>
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