Font Licensing Misuse Stats from the 2016 Font Purchasing Habits Survey

Several questions in the survey were intended to capture a picture of the volume, prevalence, and consumer behavior of illegal font use in the form of downloading, sharing, receiving, and using files without proper licenses. Often, people do not know when they are using a font illegally or not, due to lack of education about font licenses, sharing fonts, and more. Thus there are two type of illegal font use: intentional and unintentional. Three yes/no questions, seen below, were asked in order to assess different types of font misuse.

Volume of Shared & Unlicensed Fonts

As a follow up to the question “Have you ever used a font without having a proper license for it?” Respondents who said “yes” were also asked: “How many unlicensed fonts have you downloaded or received?” The table to the right shows the self-reported volume of files that were received or downloaded with an improper license. Since only 18.5% of respondents responded yes to having ever used a font without having a proper license for it, only 18.5% of the respondents received this follow-up question asking to provide concrete figures of their illegal font use.­ N=197, the number of respondents who answered this question. The responses to this question varied significantly, with two large outliers. Many respondents included comments with their responses, giving explanations or simply answered the questions with statements such as “a lot” or “too many to count.” These qualitative values were not included in this analysis.

Total Volume Calculation

The number of unlicensed fonts downloaded or received can be determined by summing estimates of different occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and multiplying them by various results of the survey questions. As seen in the table above, between 700 and 300 million fonts have been downloaded or used without the proper license. These calculations should be referenced with care as there are several potential sources of error: self-reporting error (only 18.5% of respondents have used fonts illegally… seriously?!), qualitative responses (like “a ton!” “too many to count” etc) that were not calculated, and the fact that these industry groups most definitely do not account for all potential font buyers. With these factors, one can assume the volume is actually much, much higher.


[6] “Craft and Fine Artists.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014.
[7] “Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014.
[8] “Art Directors.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014.
[9] “Graphic Designers.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014.
[10] Mean including outliers.
[11] Mean excluding outliers.


The data referenced in this article is from the 2016 Font Purchasing Habits Survey. You may see the demographics of the respondents and other survey contents by following the link above. The information, opinions, and content contained in this article is solely that of the author, Mary Catherine Pflug, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of her employer, Monotype.