The Dutch publishing house Brill has issued its own eponymous typeface, which it describes this way:
This indispensable tool for scholars will become freely available later this year for non-commercial use. You will be able to download the font package after agreeing to the End User License Agreement. (brill.nl/news/brill-typeface, accessed 20120205)
The document displaying the font, v. 1.0, is currently posted at [brill.nl/files/brill.nl/brill_typeface_user_guide_1.00.pdf].
As it happens, Google also supplies fonts — a vast range of them — over 400 as of this morning. They are illustrated at google.com/webfonts and a showcase of some of them in plausibly familiar applications has appeared on the website of a designer, Chad Mazzola: hellohappy.org/beautiful-web-type/.
What most interests me is the different terms of licensing. Brill's license is proprietary:
Commercial use of any kind, including the embedding of the fonts or part(s) of them in any Commercial Product not published by BRILL is prohibited unless prior written permission has been secured from BRILL; write to firstname.lastname@example.org should you want to acquire such a permission. None of these fonts may be redistributed to others, nor may they be sold, without prior written consent from BRILL. (www.brill.nl/promotions/brill-fonts-end-user-license-agreement, accessed 20120205)
Google, however, has turned to the generous SIL Open Font License (OFL), established by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, an American organization of Christian missionary linguists. The OFL is modeled on familiar "free/libre" licences for other software products, and specifies at least two points worth reading about thinking about:
"the freedom to use font software for any purpose" (dpb: in other words, use in the commercial products kiboshed by Brill are explicitly permitted)
"We also hope that this new license will fill a need for lesser-known languages, complex scripts and typographic needs with low direct economic value and so empower language communities who were left out by proprietary vendors until now." ([scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?id=OFL#43a3bb12], accessed 20120205)
To say it in a few words, Google offers a library of free fonts, supported by its immense targeted advertising business. Brill, noted for its expensive reference works, is operating more like a traditional type foundry in seeking to control the use of its (single) product.
Conventional wisdom, or anyway the opinion of many who are giving their opinion these days, is that Google's model will soon replace Brill's. Physical books and DVDs will disappear just as the typewriter did, I am told. But I'm inclined to think the models will coexist for the long term, and that proprietary works and tools will continue to survive among those freely distributed ones whose financial support is less transparent.
I think that technology has enabled the functions of different works and tools to become much more specialized than they once were, and that is a prescription for coexistence and coevolution. Think of the variety of mainstream vehicles that now exist for transmitting a performance: audio recording, radio, film, television, streaming, podcast — all very substantial industries that show no sign of disappearing. People still flock to live performances, too. It's true that the oldest of these vehicles has not yet been around for 120 years, and in another 120 almost anything might happen.
To that I say: Google's unrestricted free distribution of tools and services is supported by a business model that has changed considerably in the decade and a half since the company was incorporated, and by the sale of a service that many people feel qualms about even though they genuinely like the tools and services and are happy not to have to pay for them. It is hard to be sanguine about the long-term evolutionary fitness of that model. In particular, I can't see it remaining completely unrestricted. I predict that Google will gradually impose more conditions on how users commit themselves to the company and make their personal information available. I also suspect that governments will be unable to resist the temptation to tax or regulate those services. I don't see this game as anywhere near over.
There is no question, however, that Google's model has fulfilled the traditional function of capitalist innovation, in decimating many businesses operating on a settled, proprietary model from an earlier time.