Blue Pencil no. 18—Arial addendum postscript from John Downer

John Downer has responded to my discussion of his essay “Call It What It Is”. He believes that I misinterpreted his words. Here is his rejoinder. (My original comments are in quotation marks followed by John’s responses.)

“Downer does not use the term pirated but counterfeit is surely the same.”

The word “pirated” was consciously avoided not because there wasn’t room for it, but because I did not mean that only a counterfeited font can qualify as a pirated font. Likewise, I did not mean that there is no important difference between a pirated font and a cloned font. Clones too can be seen as counterfeits; but this is not to say that every counterfeit is simply a clone, nor that every clone is a passable counterfeit.

“The problem with his definition is that it is not precise.”

Please note that each category has a heading which gathers three related-but-separate words or terms.
There are slashes, not “equal signs” or “congruence signs,” used in each heading. By using slashes, I thought I provided enough precision and clarity for readers to see that the groupings are aggregates, and not draw individual attention to any single word or term in the heading. The definitions were written in such a way as to be applicable to all three elements of the heading. I was not going for precision to the extent of assigning each component in a heading a unique definition.

“It relies on experts to know one when they see one.”

Not necessarily. To use an easy example here, if I were to tell you that by pointing to the letter M, I actually mean inverted-W, then I would say that there has been a misunderstanding. And while some laymen might not immediately see a difference, it does not follow that only an expert can detect what’s wrong.

“It also sees clones as the same as pirated fonts.”

Again, I did not use the word “pirated” to mean “cloned.” I used the word “clone” to mean “clone.” When you attempt to say to your readers, that one word means the same as another, and then another, you are doing the author (me) a disservice by trying to interpret for the reader what is meant, as opposed to asking (me) for a verification of your hunch.

“But I think there is a difference: pirated fonts are metal or film copies while clones are digital ones.”

Not according to my experience. Here I will say that differences do exist, but that you have not described them well. Pirated fonts can be found in any medium. Clones can also be found in any medium. But this does not mean that you can equate clones with counterfeits, only that clones and counterfeits share key aspects of a deliberately-crafted generic definition.

“Clone suggests a more accurate, if not identical, copy of a typeface.” and “A clone is not only a typeface that looks like another one but has nearly the same data.”

Incorrect. It is any collection of characters (or font) made with shapes nearly identical to an older collection of letters (or font) in an effort to replicate the look of each character, and thereby the whole set. In the case of digital fonts, the only requirement is that the outlines be reasonably similar. The data itself can deviate drastically. There are countless ways to describe a given contour in the digital medium.

“By this definition Arial is not a clone of Helvetica, even though it has muscled in on Helvetica’s commercial success.”

Let that be your own definition, and not a valid interpretation of my particular definition. In putting forth my concise definitions, I was trying to succinctly provide accurate identifiers and stay true to each by following my own advice: “Call It What It Is.”