Stranger Fonts: Are Fonts Protectable Intellectual Property?

25

October

2017

With Season 2 premiering this week, there are a number of things to obsess about in the Netflix original Stranger Things but let’s start where most shows start… the title sequence.

The font for Stranger Things is called ITC Benguiat, a retro font that is a homage of the era the show pays reverence to. This font may look familiar as it has appeared on the cover of several Stephen King novels, The Smiths used it on the cover of their album ‘Strangeways,’ and it was the title font for the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books you might remember as a kid.

ITC Benguiat was named after its creator, Ed Benguiat. Mr. Benguiat has created more than 600 fonts during his career, including the logos for Ford, The New York Times, Playboy, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Estée Lauder, among others. Mr. Benguiat was unaware of the Stranger Things graphic use until he was contacted for an interview.  He says he was aware of a spike in his royalties, he just didn’t know why.

This font choice clearly reflects the show’s theme as the series aesthetic portrays its roots in the pulpy genre of the 80’s. The show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, directly cited the Stephen King novels as the inspiration behind the show’s logo and sent copies of King’s novels to Imaginary Forces, the creative studio behind the title sequence. The 1980’s revised retro typography brings a greater impact when used in 2016 and brings the viewer back through the power of the historical typography.

But how is it that Stranger Things is able to use this font? Isn’t there some type of intellectual property protection? In fact, the U.S. is one of the only major industrialized nations that does not protect typeface design under copyright law.

In 1976, U.S. Copyright laws were revised to say that they do not regard the design of typeface to be copyrightable “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work” within the meaning of copyright. Later, in 1988, the Copyright Office announced that computer typeface also cannot be copyrighted because they did not constitute original works of art. While copyright law does not protect typefaces, fonts may be protected as long as the font qualifies as computer software or a program. This means that copyright law protects the font software, not the artistic design of the typeface.

Typeface designs can be protected through a design patent. A design patent protects the design aspects of a functional item but only lasts for 14 or 15 years from the date the design patent is granted. Once the term of the patent has expired, you cannot prevent others from using it.

Some trademark protection is available for the name of the font but not the font itself. This would only protect the name of that font and prevent someone else from creating a font with the same name and using that font in commerce; it would not prevent someone else form using the font’s design. However, fonts are protectable if they are incorporated into a logo, such as the Disney logo written with its distinguished script.

[This article was prepared and written by Ashley Winslow, our intellectual property rookie.  For more information about the nitty-gritty of the Stranger Things font, please check out this blog (https://blog.nelsoncash.com/the-typography-of-stranger-things-e35771f40d31) for a deeper dive on the typography aspect of Stranger Things!]

Stranger Fonts: Are Fonts Protectable Intellectual Property?

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