I occasionally come across an argument against the implementation of embedded web fonts in web browsers and I wanted to comment on it.
The argument is that embedding fonts in web pages should not be allowed, because either people don’t have the rights to use fonts that way, or because it’s too easy for users to steal the fonts, or some combination of the two. It’s debilitating for those who hold that position, and they may be missing out on a lot of potential opportunity. Craig Kroeger sells a set of fonts specifically for use in Adobe Flash, and even licensed them for distribution with Adobe Flash CS3. And that’s just for Flash designers. Imagine a market the size of the whole internet.
Without proper web font embedding technology, there are too many hurdles to uses custom type faces on your website. You can use Photoshop created text graphics, and there are some tools to help make using custom typography on the net easier, like sIFR (which relies on the Adobe Flash Player). While these are creative solutions, they are pretty restrictive – limiting the use of fonts to small blocks of text, like headers. They can also be time consuming to set up, and there is no way for web page designers to use these techniques for body copy. So other than some sparse use here and there, web designers don’t even consider using – or licensing – fonts for web sites, and instead stick with the same 10 fonts that most people have on their systems already.
Just as in print, or with photos or body copy, or any other licensable content, it’s on the shoulders of designers to make sure they are abiding by their license agreements. License templates exist that give designers the right to embed fonts in PDFs and other forms of distributable electronic document, and it’s generally well understood that the rights to images found on a web site belong to the owners that web site. When there are violations, friendly notices, or nasty-grams from the layers, seem to do the trick to get things resolved. These same principles undoubtedly apply to embedded fonts, and are no more complicated. Those are the solutions to possible abuse.
If we must though, I would suggest a move to a middle ground, and follow the example of the natural restrictions placed on photos. Since photos are reduced in quality and in size when converted to jpegs, re-use is impractical for high quality output. So browser producers could consider a special, difficult for end users to install font format for embedded web fonts, something based on SVG maybe. This would probably be a good idea for a number of reasons anyway, including smaller file sizes and better cross platform compatibility. Fonts could then be converted and subsetted for use in web pages, in the same way that they are converted and subsetted for use in other web distributable formats, like Adobe Flash, Director, PDF, and Silverlight.
I hope Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie will stand by his publicly stated desire to see embedded web fonts come to Opera, and that something like that might be the catalyst that gets the other browser makers moving on embedded fonts.
I think the time has long passed for embedded web fonts.