So Windows and Photoshop copyrighted most of their fonts.

Now let's say my friend uses a pirated version of Photoshop and Windows and creates some photo with subtitle or a meme.

Then what?

Did he violate the copyrighted material and can now Microsoft sue him and have the court order him to take down these images?

  • 2
    I think they'd be much more interested in the pirated software than what was made with them...
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 18:48
  • I do not thing that is a huge problem writing my friend a fine for his illegal use of photoshop. But I do think it would be horrible for him losing his work and creative works Commented May 20, 2021 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


The owner of the font copyright, who is probably not Microsoft, could (if the owner learns of the unauthorized use) sue for copyright infringement. The owner could, in the , collect actual damages (probably the retail value of the fonts) or statutory damages, which can be anything from $750 to $30,000 as the court thinks just. In a case like the one above, probably closer to $750, if the owner thinks it worth bringing a suit at all, which is not highly likely.

However, the owner would have no claim to own the infringer's creative works. But if the infringer makes money from using the fonts without a license, any profits could be included in the actual damages. Better to get licensed.

Microsoft could similarly sue for the unlicensed copy of Windows, or Adobe for Photoshop. But mostly they just deny support. Again, even if they were to sue and win, they would have no claim on the infringer's creative works.

Addition in response to comment:

Nothing in Title 17 of the US Code would give the holder of the copyright on the fonts control over the creative work in such a case.. Using a font does not normally make a work in which it ism used a derivative work. 17 USC 106 gives the source holder the right to approve the making of derivative works, but not to own the derivative copyright, which is separate. If an unauthorized derivative work is created, that would be infringement (unless fair use or another defense applied) and the holder would be entitled to damages, but not to ownership of the copyright. Damages could include an injunction against further publication of the unauthorized derivative work, however.

  • Do you have a source about the "no claim to own" bit (with apologies for asking for proof of a negative)? That seems to be in odds with a IP holders right to control derivate works, take down orders, court orders for destruction of counterfeits, etc. (Alternatively, I may be over reading what is meant by "own", noting that OP doesn't use that term in the question).
    – sharur
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 20:57
  • 1
    The source is really all of Title 17 of the US Code. Using a font does not normally make a work in which it ism used a derivative work. and even where there is a derivative work 17 USC 106 give the sourcew holder the right to approve the making, but not to own the derivative copyright Commented May 20, 2021 at 21:10
  • Thank you for your citation. +1 (Oh, god, I'm turning into my university professors)
    – sharur
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 21:11
  • 1
    @sharur I added a more detailed response to my answer. Commented May 20, 2021 at 21:19
  • A while ago I read through Apple's license agreement, and it seems that if you steal my Mac, you have no license to use Apple's software on it at all. So they could sue you for using their software without license if you ever turned my stolen computer on. I doubt this has ever happened.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 9:51

Fonts are weird, especially in the United States.

In the U.S., the physical shape - the "typeface" - is not copyrightable. Seriously. The digital code which specifies the "vector art" lines and curves of the character is copyrightable i.e. the "font".

But you can easily "launder" fonts by printing all the characters to a bitmap image, flattening to a plain bitmap, and then tracing over the bitmap with spline tools to convert it "back" into vector format. And this can be automated. Since this will result in a new, original set of splines due to slight variances, this "trip through the bitmap hole" results in a new original font that is YOUR property in US law.

The side-effect of this is, anytime you use a typeface in bitmap media, you already have 'laundered' the font. There is nothing that remains that belongs to the font owner, since bitmap media IS NOT a font and contains no software defining a font.

Even then, maybe you have licensed the font.

When Microsoft sells you fonts with Windows, they are selling you a license to use those fonts as you see fit.


Unless you are using an application that is specifically licensed for home, student, or non-commercial use, we do not place any restrictions on what you do with print output that uses these fonts.

We view creating graphic files as being essentially the same as printing from an output device.

Of course, you hear the weasel words in there: "If you took a full-boat Windows license and not just the home edition etc." You're saying you don't have that license.

So you never had that license? You never bought a full copy of Windows? Mind you, it comes with many PCs.

And regardless, looking at your graphic, Microsoft has no way of knowing it was done on a pirated Windows. For that matter, they have no way of knowing a friend with a licensed copy didn't make it for you, which would make it legit by their own rules.

But you still have plausible deniability

Because of the US rule, any popular font has open-source versions. As such, someone looking at your printed media will have no idea if you used proper Arial or an open-source version of Arial.

Indeed, with the slightest amount of care, you could circumvent the entire issue by using these open-source fonts instead of Arial etc.

Therefore, they are unlikely to pursue you for copyright infringement for the graphic because of the high probability that your use was legitimate one way or the other.

Of course, if they had means to discover your software was pirated, they could pursue you for that.

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