Citation: 2002 (24) PTC 427 (CB)
Date of Judgement: 15th January, 2002
Bench: Zakir T Thomas, Registrar
Authority: The Copyright Board
In an attempt to improve the standards of Bengali print journalism, a publishing house named M/s. ABP Ltd wished to develop new Bengali fonts and/or typefaces. They employed Debrani Gupta for this purpose in May 1995. During her time at the publishing house, she developed the following four fonts using digital technology-
(i) Aananda Expanded Italic
(ii) Aananda Expanded Bold
(iii) Aananda Expanded with x/xx Expanded
(iv) Aananda Expanded Bold Italics
The letters and characters consisted of all the Bengali vowels and consonants, conjoined characters and commonly used symbols. The publishing house claimed that the fonts enhanced the aesthetic quality of Bengali print and were the result of a substantial amount of labour and skill.
The company then applied for copyright registration for the four fonts under the category of “artistic works”. However, the Copyright Office rejected their applications, citing that the works do not qualify as an “artistic work” per the definition of the term given in the Copyright Act, 1957.
M/s. ABP Ltd was aggrieved by this, as they felt that they were not given an opportunity to present their case before the Copyright Board. They filed a writ petition in the High Court at Calcutta. The High Court directed the Copyright Board’s Order to be set aside and that an Order should be passed only after presenting a proper opportunity to the Applicant. In pursuance of the High Court’s direction, the Copyright Board held a hearing on 9th October 2001.
Can fonts and typefaces be considered to be 'artistic works' and entitled to copyright protection as envisaged in the Copyright Act, 1957?
The Copyright Act, 1957
Section 2(c) - Definition of 'artistic work'
Section 15 - Special provision regarding copyright in designs registered or capable of being registered under the Designs Act, 2000.
Section 16 - No copyright except as provided in the Act
M/s. ABP Ltd contended that the conjuncts used in the font minimized the space used by the individual letters, thus enhancing the readability and reducing the time taken for reading. Since the Bengali script is complex, they had invested a significant amount of labour and skill into the process of re-ordering the characters. The company claimed originality based on the unique and angular calligraphic strokes, diagonal strokes, and angular joineries with strong calligraphic stress. To strengthen their case for granting copyright protection to fonts, they relied on Stephenson, Blake and Co v Grant, Legros and Co Ltd  and Roland Corporation & Anr. v. Lovenzo & Sons.
The Registrar observed that fonts or typefaces are not classified as works in which copyright subsists, and thus cannot avail copyright protection. As per Section 16 of the Copyright Act, there is no copyright other than that specifically provided in the Act. Thus, in order to be given copyright protection, a work has to be clearly mentioned within the definition of works protected in the Act. The Registrar pointed out that the English law includes an express provision to protect typefaces under ‘typographical arrangement of published editions’. Since the Indian copyright law contains no such specific mention and no term of protection for fonts and typefaces, there was no intention to grant protection in the first place. Moreover, no international instrument expressly mentions fonts and typefaces being eligible for copyright protection.
However, if at all typefaces have to be given any form of intellectual property protection, they may be registered as a design under the Designs Act, keeping in mind the restriction put by Section 15(2) of the Act. Interestingly, the case of Roland Corporation & Anr. v. Lovenzo & Sons relied upon by the Applicant dealt with the contention that typefaces can be registered as a design.
Granting copyright protection to fonts and typefaces is not an alien concept for the United Kingdom and a few other jurisdictions. However, Aananda Expanded v Unknown was the first instance in India where the probability of fonts and typefaces availing copyright protection was even considered in the first place. The Copyright Board’s decision clarified that the Indian copyright law does not grant protection to fonts and typefaces.
 Although often used interchangeably, the general consensus is that fonts and typefaces are not the same. A ‘typeface’ is a specific style used for the letters, while a ‘font’ describes the variation within the typeface, like in its size, weight, width, etc. Read more about it here - https://www.editorx.com/shaping-design/article/typefaces-vs-fonts