The GPL exception clause (or GPL + FE, for short) is an optional clause That Can Be added to the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) Permitting digital fontsshared With That license to be embedded Within a digital paper file without Requiring the Document itself to be shared with GPL. Without the clause, conflicts may arise with open-source projects distributing digital fonts which may be used in desktop publishing. [1] As explained by Dave Crossland in Free Graphics Magazine, “A copyleftmay be overreach in the documents that use it, unless an exception is made to the normal terms; An additional permission to allow people to combine a document with the permission of texts, photographs, illustrations and designs. Most free fonts today have a copyleft license – the SIL OFL or GNU GPL with the Exception Font in the GPL FAQ. ” [2]


The fonts are exceptionally authored in April 2005 by David “Novalis” Turner, a Free Software Foundation GPL compliance engineer. As he explains, “The situation we were considering was one of the most important issues in the world. The text of the document, of course, would be unrestricted when distributed without the font. ” [3] [4]

To be in compliance with the GPL, Red Hat ‘s Fedora Linux project included the exception with the license for ict Liberation are package , albeit with additional restrictions in 2007. [5] These restrictions Prompted further Top Discussion Among the Debian GNU / Linux distribution’s Community members concerning the GPL + FE. [6] This attention prompted Ubuntu to follow and create the Ubuntu Font because they were not satisfied with either the SIL OFL or with GPL + FE. [7]


To make a exception to the GPL, a digital font creator adds the following language to the end of the GPL text distributed with their font:

“As a special exception, if you create a document that uses this font, you will not be able to use the GNU General Public License. This exception does not however invalidate any other reasons why the document could be covered by the GNU General Public License. You do not want to do so, delete this exception statement from your version. ” [8]

See also

  • SIL Open Font License (created November 2005)


  1. Jump up^ “Legal Considerations for fonts” . Fedora Project . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  2. Jump up^ Crossland, Dave (2011). “Copyleft Business” (PDF) . Free Graphics Magazine . 1 (2): 12-13 . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  3. Jump up^ Desjardins, Louis. “[Scribus] Response from the FSF about GPL fonts” . Scribus discussion list . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  4. Jump up^ Turner, David “Novalis”. “Font Licensing” . FSF Blog . Free Software Foundation . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  5. Jump up^ “Licensing: LiberationFontLicense” . Fedora Project . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  6. Jump up^ Baghumian, Alan. “License question: GPL + Exception” . Debian Legal discussion list . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  7. Jump up^ Willis, Nathan. “The Ubuntu make a fresh look at open font licensing” . . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .
  8. Jump up^ “GPL FAQ” . . Retrieved 5 June 2015 .

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