Someone once compared the internet to a series of tubes full of cats. While their intent was—I suspect—to comment on trends in social media, the image works equally well for finding things in a home that contains cats and tubes: both in the sense of unexpectedly finding things in a tunnel and not being able to find things even after having looked in every tunnel.
As many readers will be aware, I am most of the departments in my publishing business, including both typesetting and advertising. Therefore, I have a broader range of typefaces, fleurons, and such than the average personal user. As I have a couple of projects in progress that aren’t science-fiction, fantasy, or the same sort of horror I’d published before, I decided to spend this morning looking for suitable typefaces for those.
Finding new typefaces is as easy as putting “[topic] typeface” in a search engine. However, being a responsible person, I didn’t want to steal anyone’s work by using a typeface without a license. Which was where I hit the “this tube is full of cat toys but none of them are the one I was looking for” moment.
Some typeface aggregation websites don’t allow a user to filter by “commercial use”. Some do, but only allow a single filter to be applied—resulting in a choice between scrolling through every typeface that is tagged (for example) “clown” to see which ones can be used commercially or scrolling through every typeface that can be used commercially looking for ones that might suit a project.
Some typeface purveyors define “commercial use” as making money from a product that embeds the entire typeface (in the way that Microsoft Word contains Times New Roman). Some define it as making money from anything that uses even a single character of the typeface. Thus requiring the user to search the site for the precise license terms before they can assess whether they need to filter for “commercial use” at all.
And some sites give an example of a typeface that evokes the exact feeling of a project then don’t mention how to license the face or potentially even who designed it.
While typeface licensing isn’t a vast issue—either in scale of searches or time required—this misalignment between how the user wishes to describe their need, how the provider believes users are likely to describe their need, and how any intermediary assumes terms are used shapes access to everything on the internet; from unexpectedly finding the perfect squeaky toy of data while looking under the sofa for a different thing to the sink plug of specific fact not being available because one doesn’t think to check under the sofa (true story).
The greatest burden however falls upon those who study Varicella zoster virus retinitis and choose to venture outside the walled garden of formal academic sites in search of fringe perspectives, who find themselves searching for its common name, Progressive Outer Retinal Necrosis, by acronym.