Public statement by Rachana Institute of Typography on the copyright/credit issue of SMC and RIT fonts

About us

We — KH Hussain, CV Radhakrishnan, PK Ashok Kumar and KV Rajeesh — are the copyright holders of TN Joy font. Many of us have worked on free/libre/open source software for years in our spare time and contributed code, design, fonts, documentation, localization and financial support to various free software projects. Our contributions can be found easily on the Web and elsewhere.

A copyright/‘credit’ issue

Immediately after the font ‘TN Joy’ was released to public by Rachana Institute of Typography (RIT), on 2-Oct-2019, Santhosh Thottingal raised a question in a forum with enough number of participants to qualify as a public discussion:

@rajeeshknambiar there are lot (sic) of contributions from me, Kavya in the build scripts, tests, and feature files in https://gitlab.com/rit-fonts/tnjoy/ Consider giving credit.

On 14-Oct-2019, Santhosh followed up again.

@rajeeshknambiar did not reply to my request for giving credits in their font.

and

Ask hussain sir to give credits for font testing and building framework. Crediting anivar alone is not enough.”

To which Rajeesh responded on 19-Oct-2019, to discuss with all the copyright holders of TN Joy about the issue:

“Noted. I will try to take it up for discussion and let you know.

On 29-Oct-2019, Santhosh again followed up:

അങ്ങനെ എഴുതുകയും ചെയ്യുകയും ചെയ്ത ഫോണ്ടിന്റെ കാര്യങ്ങൾക്ക് ക്രെഡിറ്റ് കിട്ടിയില്ലെന്നാണ് പറയുന്നത് അനിവർ:) sundar, and janayugam fonts. ഇതിൽ രാജാജിയുടെ ഹെൽപ്പൊന്നും വേണ്ട. even @rajeeshknambiar can just fix it

Analysis

During the first week of Nov-2019 for the summit organized by Kerala Media Academy, all the copyright holders of TN Joy font met and discussed the issue raised by Santhosh.

As free software developers and users, it was not our intention to violate copyright or appropriate credit of another free software developer’s work at all. Not only in intention, but we strived to achieve that in all our projects by acts. So, this accusation came as a surprise to us and we decided to take a deeper look at how this issue originated and what the root cause is, to address it properly.

We did a detailed analysis and documented the following details.

Technical background

  1. A Malayalam Unicode font has two essential parts — the Glyphs (അക്ഷരരൂപങ്ങൾ) and the OpenType shaping lookup rules. Unlike Latin fonts, both of these are necessary for proper shaping. The final TTF/OTF/WOFF2  contains both Glyphs and OpenType shaping rules to make a Malayalam Unicode font usable software. Without either, such a software is not usable.
Figure 1: Malayalam text without shaping (left) and with correct shaping (right).
  1. The Malayalam opentype features (GSUB and GPOS ‘lookup rules’) used in font ‘TN Joy’ developed by Rachana Institute of Typography (RIT) are adapted from that of font ‘Sundar’ which in turn are adapted from feature file of ‘Rachana’.
  2. To develop the feature file of Rachana over the years, many have contributed including the original author Hussain KH , Suresh P, Santhosh Thottingal, Rajeesh KV, Kavya Manohar et al. [1].
  3. Hussain KH invented and implemented the glyph naming conventions (‘k1’ for ‘ ക’, ‘xx’ for ‘ ്’ etc. instead of names like ‘uni0D15’ etc.), which made font featuring highly comprehensible for programming and much easier to maintain. This naming scheme is followed by all fonts maintained by Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC) and RIT. This was also the naming scheme in fonts developed by ATPS and when it was pointed out that those fonts were derived from SMC’s, the immediate change made was renaming the glyphs and lookup rules [2, 3, 4].
  4. Rajeesh is the original author of lookup rules of SMC’s fonts for revised ‘mlm2’ OpenType specification for Malayalam, and made it possible to support both ‘mlym’ and ‘mlm2’ specification in a single font. This resulted in making a single font work well with Windows XP, Pango/Qt4 era applications and Uniscribe, HarfBuzz era applications [5].
  5. In 2015, Santhosh split the comprehensive lookup rules from the Fontforge SFD file of Rachana into a separate feature file, but the copyright statements were not preserved [4]. It is our opinion that removing copyright statements is violation of copyright act (hence a crime) and immoral in the free software world. This is also the root cause for missing copyright in the OpenType lookup rules and build script, of the fonts in question.
  6. The same lookup rules in 2, 4 and 5 are used and adapted by subsequent fonts developed by SMC and RIT, such as Chilanka, Manjari, Sundar, Gayathri, TN Joy etc. Rajeesh did not claim for credit or copyright when Manjari or Gayathri was released.

RIT’s statement

With this background,

  1. Fonts developed, maintained and distributed by both SMC  and RIT, specifically its OpenType lookup rules + fontforge based build tool + test cases are at the heart of this issue. This is caused by the change introduced by Santhosh in [6].
  2. The copyright holders of TN Joy font were made aware of such ‘credit’ issue — the definition of which Santhosh has not clarified and in RIT’s understanding is sufficient and limited to ‘copyright’. Thanks for bringing light into such a potential legal and moral risk that affects the users and organizations using these fonts.
  3. RIT  would like to acknowledge the copyright of Santhosh Thottingal and Kavya Manohar for the development of ‘Sundar’ and ‘TN Joy’ in the areas of lookup rules, the ‘build script’ and comprehensive ‘test file’. RIT  is willing to add the missing copyright notice to these files;

and RIT asked Santhosh to consider:

  1. Preserve the copyright of the original authors of the ‘lookup rules’ and Naming convention (notation for Glyphs) in all these fonts. The copyright and license statement should read:

“Copyright: Digitized data copyright (c) 2004–2005 Rachana Akshara Vedi (Chitrajakumar R, Hussain KH, Gangadharan N, Vijayakumaran Nair, Subash Kuraiakose), (c) 2006–2016 Hussain KH, Suresh P, Santhosh Thottingal, Rajeesh K Nambiar, Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (http://smc.org.in). This file is licensed under OFL  1.1.”

  1. The Fontforge based ‘build script’ added by Santhosh used to generate TTF/OTF/WOFF/WOFF2 files is adapted from that of Amiri font by Khaled Hosny [7] without preserving copyright or attribution. RIT requests to credit the original author[s] of this tool. It is of our opinion that removing copyright statements from a free software program code is illegal and immoral. It is also hypocritical when a person who asserts one’s own credit does this crime to other well-known and respected free software developer[s].
  2. Test cases in the ‘test file’ are contributed by various contributors, RIT  request to add the attribution of such contributors to the extent possible (Kavya Manohar, Santhosh Thottingal, Rajeesh KV). Santhosh has responded to this request as “test cases were mainly prepared by Kavya and no need to have attribution”, but RIT  firmly believes the copyright statements of the contributors must be added.
  3. The original author of ‘mlym.sty’ file [8] to typeset Unicode Malayalam using XeTeX is Suresh P, which was enhanced by Rajeesh KV with inputs from Hussain KH. Due to frequent requests on how to typeset Malayalam using Unicode, in 2013 Rajeesh wrote a wiki page [9] with basic details, which was later extended by other developers with instructions to install and setup XeTeX packages. This wiki article was later extended by Santhosh by adding matter from Wikipedia. This article was then copied and published in Santhosh’s blog [10] without attributing the authors, and [10] is frequently provided by Santhosh as the first response to general public asking for documentation on how to typeset Malayalam using XeTeX. It is shockingly hypocritical that plagiarism is practised by a well known free software developer who asserts one’s own credit without any respect to others copyright or credit. RIT  would like Santhosh to either: (a) redact [10] and redirect to [9] instead, or (b) credit the original authors in [10].

RIT  stopped the analysis and investigation of Santhosh’s claim at this point, as we have identified the root cause of missing copyrights and these are the important topics directly affecting RIT  developers.

Conclusion

RIT  tried to resolve the issue in private discussion with Santhosh Thottingal but unfortunately it did not succeed. Santhosh has not agreed to reinstate the copyright statement of original authors. Santhosh did not respond to many of the pointed questions we raised and deflected on answering others. Santhosh also refused to clarify what he means by ‘credit’ despite repeated pointed questions. Santhosh withdrew his claim for credit in one of the emails; and it is possible that he could change the mind any time and the issue could resurface. This surrounds the fonts by SMC  and RIT  in Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (which the corporate proprietary companies successfully used against free software for years) and put all the individual users and organizations and developers using these fonts under legal risk and moral ambiguity.

Thus,

  1. RIT  has added proper copyright statements to all the software used in building its fonts, viz. ‘Sundar’ and ‘ TN Joy’ [11,12].
  2. RIT  believes that our primary responsibility is towards the individual and institutional users of our fonts and developers depending on our tools; and they should be able to use our fonts and tools without any legal risk or moral ambiguity. RIT, to the best of its knowledge, has fulfilled that responsibility and strive to do so.
  3. RIT also understands that as with any issue in the free software world, the community would be divided, and it is a painful thing. RIT request the community to carefully consider all the facts before making a choice.

This will be the final public statement of RIT on the copyright issue raised by Santhosh Thottingal.

Signed

  • KH Hussain
  • CV Radhakrishnan
  • PK Ashok Kumar
  • KV Rajeesh

References

  1. Rachana font commit history, URL https://gitlab.com/smc/…
  2. Kathir font licensing issue (1), 2014, URL http://lists.smc.org.in/…
  3. Kathir font licensing issue (2), 2014, URL http://lists.smc.org.in/…
  4. ATPS  fonts licensing issue, 2015, URL https://groups.google.com/…
  5. Introducing and integrating ‘mlm2’ OpenType shaping rules, 2013, URL https://gitlab.com/smc/…
  6. Split Glyphs and OpenType shaping rules, 2015, URL https://gitlab.com/smc/…
  7. Amiri font build tool, URL https://github.com/alif-type/…
  8. XeTEX Malayalam style file for ‘Logbook of an Observer’, 2012, URL https://github.com/smc/…
  9. Typesetting Malayalam using XeTEX, SMC  Wiki page history, 2013, URL https://wiki.smc.org.in/…
  10. 2014, https://thottingal.in/blog/…
  11. Sundar font, reinstate copyright and license statements, 2019, URL https://gitlab.com/rit-fonts/…
  12. TN Joy font, reinstate copyright and license statements, 2019, URL https://gitlab.com/rit-fonts/…

Profile of the signatories

  • KH Hussain
    Library and information scientist by training and profession, font designer and developer of several fonts including, Rachana, Meera, Meera Inimai, TN Joy, RSugathan, Janayugom, Keraleeyam, Uroob, etc., free software activist, released all fonts under Open Font License. Played an important role in the migration of Janayugom dail to free software based production technologies.
  • CV Radhakrishnan
    Free software activist and TeX programmer, one of the founders of the Free Software Foundation of India and Indian TeX Users Group. Organized two annual meetings of the TeX Users Group in Trivandrum in 2002 and 2011. Wrote several packages (libraries) in LaTeX and released under free license (LPPL) at Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN).
  • PK Ashok Kumar
    Typesetter by profession and training, has four decades of extensive experience in typesetting right from the age of metal typefaces through digitized typesetting including TeX and LaTeX. Free content activist and principal tester for fonts developed by RIT, played a major role in the migration of production of Janayugom daily using free software.
  • KV Rajeesh
    Free software developer and user. Fedora project developer since 2008 and KDE  developer since 2011. Font maintainer and language computing contributor to Swathanthra Malayalam Computing since 2008. Member of Indic testing team for HarfBuzz. Google Summer of Code mentor. Contributes to various free software projects including Qt, GNOME, VLC, Odoo, Fontforge, SILE, ConTeXt, Okular, etc.

On data encoding and complex text shaping

As part of the historical move of Janayugom news paper migrating into a completely libre software based workflow, Kerala Media Academy organized a summit on self-reliant publishing on 31-Oct-2019. I was invited to speak about Malayalam Unicode fonts.

The summit was inaugurated by Fahad Al-Saidi of the Scribus fame, who was instrumental in implementing complex text layout (CTL). Prior to the talks, I got to meet the team who made it possible to switch Janayogom’s entire publishing process on to free software platform — Kubuntu based ThengOS, Scribus for page layout, Inkspace for vector graphics, GIMP for raster graphics, CMYK color profiling for print, new Malayalam Unicode fonts with traditional orthography etc. It was impressive to see that entire production fleet was transformed, team was trained and the news paper is printed every day without delay.

I also met Fahad later and pleasantly surprised to realize that he already knows me from open source contributions. We had a productive discussion about Scribus.

My talk was on data encoding and text shaping in Unicode Malayalam. The publishing industry in Malayalam is at large still trapped in ASCII which causes numerous issues now, and many are still not aware of Unicode and its advantages. I tried to address that in my presentation with examples — so the preface of my talk filled half of the session; while the second half focused on font shaping. Many in the industry seems to be aware of Unicode and traditional Malayalam orthography can be used in computers now; but many in the academia still has not realized it — evident from the talk of the moderator of the discussion, who is director of the school of Indian languages. There was a lively discussion with the audience in the Q&A session. After the talk, a number of people gave me feedback and requested the slides be made available.

Slides on data encoding and complex text shaping are available under CC-BY-NC license here.

Meera font updated to fix issue with InDesign

I have worked to make sure that fonts maintained at SMC work with mlym (Pango/Qt4/Windows XP era) opentype specification as well as mlm2 (Harfbuzz/Windows Vista+ era) specification, in the same font. These have also been tested in the past (2016ish) with Adobe softwares which use their own shaping engine (they use neither Harfbuzz nor Uniscribe; but there are plans to use Harfbuzz in the future — the internet tells me).

Some time ago, I received reports that typesetting articles in Adobe InDesign using Meera font has some serious issues with Chandrakkala/Halant positioning in combination with conjuncts.

When the Savmruthokaram/Chandrakkala ് (U+0D4D) follows a consonant or conjunct, it should be placed at the ‘right shoulder’ of the consonant/conjunct. But in InDesgin (CC 2019), it appears incorrectly on the ‘left shoulder’. This incorrect rendering is highlighted in figure below.

Wrong chandrakkala position before consonant in InDesign.

The correct rendering should have Chandrakkala appearing at the right of as in figure below.

Correct chandrakkala position after consonant.

This issue manifested only in Meera, but not in other fonts like Rachana or Uroob. Digging deeper, I found that only Meera has Mark-to-Base positioning GPOS lookup rule for Chandrakkala. This was done (instead of adjusting leftt bearing of the Chandrakkala glyph) to appear correctly on the ‘right shoulder’ of consonant. Unfortunately, InDesign seems to get this wrong.

To verify, shaping involving the Dot Reph ൎ (U+0D4E) (which is also opentype engineered as Mark-to-Base GPOS lookup) is checked. And sure enough, InDesign gets it wrong as well.

Dot Reph position (InDesign on left, Harfbuzz/Uniscribe on right)

The issue has been worked around by removing the GPOS lookup rules for Chandrakkala and tested with Harfbuzz, Uniscribe and InDesign. I have tagged a new version 7.0.2 of Meera and it is available for download from SMC website. As this issue has affected many users of InDesign, hopefully this update brings much joy to them to use Meera again. Windows/InDesign users make sure that previous versions of the font are uninstalled before installing this version.

Sundar — a new traditional orthography ornamental font for Malayalam

There is a dearth of good Unicode fonts for Malayalam script. Most publishing houses and desktop publishing agencies still rely on outdated ASCII era fonts. This not only causes issues with typesetting using present technologies, it makes the ‘document’ or ‘data’ created using these fonts and tools absolutely useless — because the ‘document/data’ is still Latin, not Malayalam.

Rachana Institute of Typography (rachana.org.in) has designed and published a new traditional orthography ornamental Unicode font for Malayalam script, for use in headings, captions and titles. It is named after Sundar, who was a relentless advocate of open fonts, open standards and open publishing. He dreamed of making available several good quality Malayalam fonts, particularly created by Narayana Bhattathiri with his unique calligraphic and typographic signature, freely and openly to the users. The font is licensed under OFL.

The font follows traditional orthography for Malayalam, rather than the unpleasing reformed orthography which was solely introduced due to the technical limitations of typewriters in the ’70s. Such restrictions do not apply to computers and present technology, so it is possible to render the classic beauty of Malayalam script using Unicode and Opentype technologies.

‘Sundar’ is designed by K.H. Hussain — known for his work on Rachana and Meera fonts which comes pre-installed with most Linux distributions; and Narayana Bhattathiri — known for his beautiful calligraphy and lettering in Malayalam script. Graphic engineers of STM Docs (stmdocs.in) did the vectoring and glyph creation. Yours truly took care of the Opentype feature programming. The font can be freely downloaded from rachana.org.in.

The source code of ‘Sundar’, licensed under OFL is available at https://gitlab.com/rit-fonts/Sundar.

Kerning feature for Malayalam fonts

At SMC, we’ve been continuously working on improving the fonts for Malayalam – by updating to newer opentype standard (mlm2), adding new glyphs, supporting new Unicode points, fixing shaping issues, reducing complexity and the compiled font size, involving new contributors etc.

Recently, out of scratching my own itch, I decided that it is high time to fix the annoyance that combination of Virama(U+D04D ് ) with quote marks (‘ ” ‘ ’ “ ” etc) used to overlap into an ugly amalgam in all our fonts. Usually Virama(് ) connects/combines two consonants which makes all 3 into a new glyph – for example സ+്+ന is shaped into a new glyph സ്ന (Note that you need a traditional orthography font installed to see the distinction in this example. Many of them are available here) . The root of the problem is that sometimes when Virama(് ) appears individually in a word such as “സ്വപ്‌‌നം” it connects two consonants പ and ന, it is positioned above the x height of most glyphs and it shall not have much left and right bearing to avoid ugly spacing between the consonants പ and ന.  Because of small side bearings, in fact of the negative right bearing (് protrudes beyond the right bearing) when a quote mark follows it, quote mark gets a little juxtaposed into Virama glyph and renders rather bad. The issue is quite prominent when you professionally typeset a book or article in Malayalam using XeTeX or SILE.

Fontforge’s tools made it easy to write opentype lookup rules for horizontal pair kerning to allow more space between Virama(് ) and quote marks. You can see the before and after effect of the change with Rachana font in the screenshot.

Rachana-kerning-before-and-after

Update 26/03/2016: Many applications already support the kerning feature out of the box, including Firefox, SILE and VLC (3.0.0-git for subtitles) that I have tested, but many still need support, for instance LibreOffice, Kwrite etc. Here is a screenshot of VLC (3.0.0-git) taking kerning rules into account while displaying Malayalam subtitle.

vlc-subtitle-kerning

Other fonts like AnjaliOldLipi, Meera and Chilanka also got this feature and those will be available with the new release in the pipeline. I have plans to expand this further to use with post-base vowels of വ(്വ) and യ(്യ) with abundant stacked glyphs that Malayalam has.

Paratype PT Serif and PT Mono fonts are now available in Fedora

Paratype has a set of nice Latin/pan-Cyrillic typefaces including sans-serif, serif and monospace fonts. The sans-serif typeface, PT Sans, released in 2010 has been part of Fedora for a long time and it is the default font for Cyrillic/Russian. It is a nice font for display in desktop, documents and web.

In 2011, PT Serif and PT Mono were added to the collection. They both are nice looking and very good quality fonts. All the fonts are also made available under OFL (Open Font License) and all it needed was someone to package them for Fedora. Something in my todo list for a long time, couple of weeks ago I have leveraged the spec file of paratype-pt-sans-fonts and packaged the serif and monospaced fonts. Paratype distributes the source tar balls separately for each set and Fedora mandates to create individual packages in such cases. Thanks to the review and comments from Fedora Fonts-SIG, especially Parag Nemade, two new font packages – paratype-pt-serif-fonts and paratype-pt-mono-fonts are now in Fedora repositories.

Obligatory screenshot of both fonts:

Paratype-PT-Serif-Mono-fonts

Malayalam opentype specification – part 1

This post is a promised followup from last November documenting intricacies of opentype specification for Indic languages, specifically for Malayalam. There is an initiative to document similar details in the IndicFontbook, this series might make its way into it. A Malayalam unicode font supporting traditional orthography is required to correctly display most of the examples described in this article, some can be obtained from here.

Malayalam has a complex script, which in general means the shape and position of glyphs are determined in relation with other surrounding glyphs, for example a single glyph can be formed out of a combination of independent glyphs in a specific sequence forming a conjunct. Take an example: ക + ്‌ ‌+ ത + ്‌ + ര => ക്ത്ര in traditional orthography. Note that in almost all the cases glyph shaping and positioning change such as this example is due to the involvement of Virama diacritic ” ്‌ “. The important rules on glyph forming are:

  1. When Virama is used to combine two Consonants, it usually forms a Conjunct, such as ക + ്‌ ‌+ ത => ക്ത. This is known as C₁ conjoining as a half form of first consonant is joined with second consonant.
  2. The notable exceptions to point 1 are when the followed Consonants are either of യ, ര, ല, വ. In those cases, they form the ‘Mark’ shapes of യ, ര, ല, വ =>  ്യ, ്ര,  ്ല,  ്വ. This is known as C₂ conjoining as a modified form of second consonant is attached to the first consonant.
  3. When Virama is used to combine a Consonant with Vowel, the Vowel forms a Vowel Mark => such as ാ, ി, ീ.

Opentype organizes these glyph forming and shaping logic by a sequence of ‘Lookup tables (or rules)’ to be defined in the font. The first part gives an overview of the relevant lookup rules used for glyph processing by shaping engine such as Harfbuzz or Uniscribe.

Only those opentype features applicable for Malayalam are discussed. The features (or lookups) are applied in the following order:

  1. akhn (Akhand – used for conjuncts like ക്ക, ക്ഷ, ല്ക്ക, യ്യ, വ്വ, ല്ല etc)
  2. pref (Pre-base form – used for pre base form of Ra –  ്‌ + ര =   ്ര)
  3. blwf (Below base form – used for below base form of La – virama+La – ്‌ + ല =  ്ല)
  4. half (Half form – Not used in mlm2 spec by Rachana and Meera, but used in mlym spec and might be useful later. For now, ignore)
  5. pstf (Post base form – used for post base forms of Ya and Va – ്‌ +യ =  ്യ, ്‌ + വ = ്വ. Note that  യ്യ & വ്വ are under akhn rule)
  6. pres (Pre-base substitution – mostly used for ligatures involving pref Ra – like ക്ര, പ്ര, ക്ത്ര, ഗ്ദ്ധ്ര  etc)
  7. blws (Below base substitution – used for ligatures involving blwf La – like ക്ല, പ്ല, ത്സ്ല etc. Note that  ല്ല is under akhn rule)
  8. psts (Post base substitution – used for ligatures involving post base Matras – like കു, ക്കൂ, മൃ etc)
  9. abvm (Above base Mark  positioning – used for dot Reph – ൎ)

Last 3 forms (pres, blws, psts) are presentation forms, they have lower priority in the glyph formation. They usually form the large number of secondary glyphs. The final one (abvm) is not a GSUB (glyph substitution lookup) but a GPOS (glyph position lookup) – this is used to position dotreph correctly above the glyphs.

  • akhn: Use this for conjuncts (കൂട്ടക്ഷരങ്ങള്‍) like ക്ക, ട്ട, ണ്ണ, ക്ഷ, യ്യ, വ്വ, ല്ല, മ്പ. This rule has the highest priority, so akhn glyphs won’t be broken by the shaping engine.
  • pref: Used only for pre-base form of Ra ര –  ്ര
  • blwf: Used only for below base form of La ല –  ്ല
  • pstf: Used for the post base forms of Ya, Va യ, വ – ്യ, ്വ
  • pres: One of the presentation forms, mostly used for ligatures/glyphs with pref Ra ര – like ക്ര, പ്ര, ക്ത്ര, ഗ്ദ്ധ്ര etc. This could also used together with the ‘half’ forms in certain situations, but that is for later.
  • blws: Used for ligatures/glyphs with blwf La ല – like ക്ല, പ്ല, ത്സ്ല etc.
  • psts: Used by a large number of ligatures/glyphs due to the post base Matras (ു,ൂ,ൃ etc) – like  കു, ക്കൂ, മൃ etc. Other Matras (ാ,ി,ീ,േ,ൈ,ൈ,ൊ,ോ,ൌ,ൗ) are implicitly handled by the shaping engine based on their Unicode properties (pre-base, post-base etc) as they don’t form a different glyph together with a consonant – there is no need to define lookup rules for those matras in the font.

I will discuss these lookup rules and how they fit in the glyph shaping sequence with detailed examples in next episodes.

(P.S: WordPress tells me I started this blog 7 years ago on this day. How time flies.)