There was a question about how to integrate a specific font into a document. The fonts were commercial fonts and though the person did not state explicitly that they had downloaded unlicensed versions of the fonts it was pretty clear that this had happened. But even if it was just some ambiguous wording (entirely possible) it still leads to the question of how the community deals with blatant situations where someone has a question about how to use unlicensed fonts or even software for that matter.

On many typography forums if there's even a hint that someone is using an unlicensed font/program all hell'll break loose or at least people will comment on the issue. When I witnessed the situation arise here I did not provide an answer because I knew I would not be able to resist some kind of comment, snarky or otherwise, about what appeared to be a clear case of someone downloading a commercial font from an unlicensed "vendor".

So, how do we deal with this situation? In general tex.stackexchange seems to ignore these kinds of things and just answer questions without editorializing. That's a perfectly fine approach, in my mind, but then I would also be fine with other responses, either pointing out the issue but still answering the question or perhaps even something harsher like closing the question with a sternly worded warning, and so on.

Is there a community consensus on this? Like I said, I'm fine with whatever approach is the norm and I'm not here as a crusader for copyright enforcement, but there should probably be some kind of community position on this.

2 Answers 2


Personally I don't think it's our place to be policing supposed use of unlicensed anything unless the question is about how to get the fonts illegally or circumvent the licence in some way. I especially don't think we should be making assumptions about where people got their fonts from if they are asking an otherwise legitimate question.

So questions like "How do I use this particular font?" are on topic even if we suspect the font isn't acquired legally, but questions like "How do I get around the copy protection of this font so I can use it with LaTeX" probably isn't.

Steve Ballmer claims that 9 out of 10 copies of Windows in China are pirated, but I don't think that means we should not answer questions from Chinese users on the site or quiz them about where they got their OS from.

Editorializing about unlicensed software generally leads to conflict that is best avoided given how much we pride ourselves on being a very friendly and welcoming site.

  • The situation that happened was more like "I downloaded Adobe Garamond Extra Bold.otf but that didn't work so I downloaded a .ttf version instead and it did work". So yeah, the person could have purchased or otherwise acquired them entirely on the up'n'up, but it did look odd and puts things in at least a slightly greyer area.
    – bfootdav
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 15:42
  • 1
    Also, some LaTeX editors are free, but others are not. Someone asking help using an editor that is non-free should not be subject to any different treatment than those who use free ones...
    – Werner Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 2:17
  • @Werner of course. This isn't about people who use proprietary software or commercial fonts but about people who are clearly using unlicensed fonts and/or software. I.e., someone admits to downloading Futura from Piratebay and wants to know how to make it work in LuaLaTeX. Should we help them? And if yes, should we say anything about not downloading unlicensed commercial fonts. (Of course the person might not be aware of the issue so it could be a welcome education).
    – bfootdav
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 2:50
  • 5
    @bfootdav I don't believe in responsible citizenship when it comes to software. If the piracy that these companies believe some users are committing as a crime is a problem, it is a problem of the copyright owners and companies not ours. They need to track down the problem not us. A community shouldn't be enforced to conduct a free witch hunt in a public domain website. These companies claim the ownership, they should be the ones who are protecting it. It is not an ethical consciousness issue as in Why would you help a thief get away? but as Alan notes this is not the place to discuss it.
    – percusse
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 16:15
  • @percusse as I said, I'm OK with however the community wishes to deal with it. If I were a font designer, I would certainly appreciate it if my community (which TeX users are) would do the neighborly thing and discourage others from downloading my fonts from unlicensed sources. If this community wanted to turn it into a "witch hunt" (your words) that would be fine, if a bit uncharacteristic from what I've seen. If the community wanted to say "purchasing the font from the vendor might fix the problem" that'd be fine too. If this community chooses to do nothing, that's OK as well.
    – bfootdav
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 16:41
  • @bfootdav Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking the copyright issue here. I'm trying to emphasize that it's not up to us to decide who the victim is of a questionable legal copyright issue. You have the implicit assumption here that we would be doing a neighborly thing if we were discouraging the users from stealing but I don't agree. That's not the right thing from my point of view. Hence I don't think there should be a third-party interference to this already complicated matter.
    – percusse
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 16:50
  • 2
    When teaching, I see intelligent students of good character show genuine surprise if I mention that a PDF is encrypted because it contains commercial fonts. They assume that fonts “just come with computers.” Why would they think otherwise, if they aren’t yet in a financial position to think of buying fonts and haven’t needed them for more than a term paper? Some users may be in a similar state, so I agree than stern warnings may well be inappropriate. And yes, we’d never get to TeX if we tried to explain the various licenses, etc.
    – Thérèse
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 4:02

We have a couple of methods for dealing with the problem:

  1. commenting;
  2. editing.

A comment could be something like

Please edit your question, because, as it's formulated now, it can raise some doubts about copyright issues.

On the other hand, how the questioner came in possession of the fonts is usually not relevant for solving the problem, so an edit can take away the problem. Clearly, “I downloaded BeautifulFont.otf from www.best-stealers.xyz" should be removed as soon as possible: we don't want to advertise pirate sites, do we?

Let's not forget that for many users English is not their first language, so it's quite possible that the doubts are caused only by improper wording.

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