I am unclear on some of the nuances of the OFL when it comes to things like modifications and what that means in terms of permission to redistribute it.

My use-case is as follows:

I developed a plugin for an e-book type setting software which allows you to include vector images. Essentially, you can hit a button and it positions the icon on the editor screen - ready for you to move/scale/rotate and apply a fill colour.

It is mostly designed for users to import their own vector libraries.

However, I am also playing with the thought of including some well-known OFL licensed icon sets - some 5,000 icons in total.

Here are the specs:

  1. I am deleting a couple of icons from each icon set - in turn meaning that I modified that font
  2. The fonts are not re-distributed by themselves, but included in a "larger work" (my app)
  3. The icons are not embedded in source form, but their SVG sprites are combined into one large icon set (SVG inside XML) and then compiled into a DLL.
  4. When icons are added to the document, their SVG markup is extracted from my DLL, sometimes slightly modified (viewBox attribute) and added to the document.

Now, my questions are:

  1. I want to show the icon's source/author in a status bar when it is selected (before adding it to the e-book) to attribute the authors:
    1. But is this in keeping with the requirement to have to rename the icon set? I mean, I can't say "(c) FontSoAndSo 2017 by XYZ licensed under SIL OFL" because the license says I must rename it and I must not use their trademark.
    2. If I can't mention their names, then I would rather like to remove any sort of attribution whatsoever, although I find that unfair. Would that be an alternative?
  2. The license also forbids sub-licensing - seeing as I am embedding the fonts in a wider piece of software, this point should be covered? The software has features besides inserting icons.
  3. I must include the license: does this only hold for actually distributing the font in a modified way and "as a font"? Does it also apply when embedding the font in a software application that is not a font, but facilitates the use of parts of that font?
    1. If this does apply, I wonder if it would suffice to include a hyperlink to the SIL OFL.

1 Answer 1


The wording of the font name change requirement (3) in the current license is

No Modified Version of the Font Software may use the Reserved Font Name(s) unless explicit written permission is granted by the corresponding Copyright Holder. This restriction only applies to the primary font name as presented to the users.

From what I can tell, their intent is that you cannot call a derived font the same thing as one of their fonts, so you cannot call your font "Doulos SIL". The OFL FAQ explains (1.21) that "you must respect any names reserved by the font authors via the RFN mechanism and pick your own font name". Their discussion of RFNs explains the reasons:

The RFN mechanism is an integral part of this OFL model. Use of it is not required, but it provides some key benefits:

Avoids collisions - it greatly reduces the likelihood that a Modified Version would get confused with the Original Version, whether by an end user, someone bundling the font into a separate app or collection, or an application attempting to render a document that specifies a particular font.

Protects authors - it requires any font that bears the RFNs retain the functionality and quality of the Original Version.

Minimizes support - it enables authors to adequately support their fonts without the burden of troubleshooting fonts bearing the same name that might have been poorly modified.

Encourages derivatives - it encourages separately-named branches to exist and be properly identified so that new, interesting enhancements can get reviewed and eventually merged back into the main project.

You can see that they do not want you to "assign" your font the same name as their reserved font name, but that does not mean you cannot mention the source font (that is, they are using "use" informally, not intended to mean "include, in any shape"). FAQ item 3.1 also says

Remember that, when authors have reserved names via the RFN mechanism, you need to change the internal names of the font to your own font name when making your modified version even if it is just a small change

There is no attribution requirement, and the FAQ 1.1.2 explicitly says attribution is not required though it is allowed ("Font authors may appreciate being mentioned in your artwork's acknowledgements alongside the name of the font, possibly with a link to their website, but that is not required"). This supports the understanding that mentioning a font name is allowed, just not assigning (and creating an ambiguity inside the font as to whose version it is).

License condition (2) says

Original or Modified Versions of the Font Software may be bundled, redistributed and/or sold with any software, provided that each copy contains the above copyright notice and this license.

"Font Software"

refers to the set of files released by the Copyright Holder(s) under this license and clearly marked as such. This may include source files, build scripts and documentation.

"Modified Version"

refers to any derivative made by adding to, deleting, or substituting — in part or in whole — any of the components of the Original Version, by changing formats or by porting the Font Software to a new environment.

So a narrow reading of what they say would lead you to conclude that the license propagation requirement does not just mean "as a font". But their FAQ suggests a different intent. Point 1.1 says:

Can I use the fonts for a book or other print publication, to create logos or other graphics or even to manufacture objects based on their outlines?

Yes. You are very welcome to do so. Authors of fonts released under the OFL allow you to use their font software as such for any kind of design work. No additional license or permission is required


1.1.1 Does that restrict the license or distribution of that artwork?

No. You remain the author and copyright holder of that newly derived graphic or object. You are simply using an open font in the design process. It is only when you redistribute, bundle or modify the font itself that other conditions of the license have to be respected (see below for more details).

1.13 also says

The requirement for fonts to remain under the OFL does not apply to any document created using the fonts and their derivatives. Similarly, creating any kind of graphic using a font under OFL does not make the resulting artwork subject to the OFL.

The technicals of what you intend to distribute are not clear: if you're "copying code" then including a license would be required, and if you're just "using the artwork" then it probably is not (given the evidence of the FAQ).

License linking is explained in 1.10

The only situation in which an OFL font can be distributed without the text of the OFL (either in a separate file or in font metadata), is when a font is embedded in a document or bundled within a program. In the case of metadata included within a font, it is legally sufficient to include only a link to the text of the OFL on http://scripts.sil.org/OFL, but we strongly recommend against this. Most modern font formats include metadata fields that will accept the full OFL text, and full inclusion increases the likelihood that users will understand and properly apply the license.

They do not have a particularly stable web structure (things are constantly being renamed and moved, so URL references are probably only good for a few years).

(in accordance with the requirements of their FAQ, I hereby declare: "From the OFL FAQ (OFL-FAQ.txt), copyright (c) 2005-2017 SIL International. Used by permission. http://scripts.sil.org/OFL-FAQ_web")

  • Thank you very much, I will re-read this a few times alongside the information you linked. On your point "The technicals of what you intend to distribute are not clear: if you're "copying code" then including a license would be required, and if you're just "using the artwork" then it probably is not (given the evidence of the FAQ)." - I am including SVG source files of the fonts in my software. These are compiled into the application. My software allows users to browse these icons using a UI and then insert them into their documents.
    – JDR
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 16:31
  • Either way, as long as (e.g. in an About window, status bar) one lists the copyright and respective licenses (full local, embedded license), distribution of a modified version of the font is fine, it now seems to me. Even when the software in question facilitates the use of large proportions of the font's glyphs - essentially wrapping them. One of my main concerns was that it may be interpreted unfair use to re-purpose the font in this way.
    – JDR
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 16:36
  • Thanks again - this is very clear. Although I am still unsure about one point: whether it is allowable to include & redistribute large proportions of the font in another software that facilitates use of the font (but is not just a font itself) - provided that the license is included.
    – JDR
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 9:11

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