To celebrate the birth of Kerala on November 1st, the southernmost state in India with around 35 million people speaking its language Malayalam; Rachana Institute of Typography is announcing the release of ‘Ezhuthu/എഴുത്ത്’ — a handwriting/script style Unicode font with traditional orthography.
The glyphs are drawn by famed calligrapher Narayana Bhattathiri. The hand-drawn characters are turned to vector graphics which are then transformed to font shapes and this typography is done by Hussain KH who lead the Rachana Aksharavedi movement and designed popular fonts such as Rachana, Meera, Meera Inimai etc. The fine tuned typeface need OpenType shaping to correctly shape and render advanced conjunct character formations in Malayalam. The OpenType feature development, integration and technical infrastructure is worked on by me, Rajeesh. Ashok Kumar and CVR made key contributions to the font development.
Ezhuthu is made available under libre license — Open Font License, which makes it free to download, use, distribute and enhance without restrictions by the general public, designers, institutions and government departments. We are proud to add a unique font to the collection of freely available Malayalam fonts. If you find any issues, report those in the source repository.
This year’s annual international conference organized by TeX Users Group — TUG2020 — was held completely online due to the raging pandemic. In TUG2020, I have presented a talk on some important Malayalam typeface design factors and considerations.
The idea and its articulation of the talk originated with K.H. Hussain, designer of well-known fonts such as Rachana, Meera, Meera Inimai, TNJoy etc. In a number of discussions that ensued, this idea was developed and later presented at TUG2020.
Opening keynote to TUG2020 was delivered by Steve Matteson, about the design of Noto fonts. He mentioned that Noto was originally envisaged to be developed as a single font containing all Unicode scripts; but that was changed due to a couple of reasons: (1) huge size of resulting font and (2) the design of many South/South-East Asian characters do not fit well within its Latin font metrics.
This second point set up the stage nicely for my talk, in which we argued that a paradigm shift from established Latin font metrics is necessary in designing and choosing font metrics for Indic scripts, in particular with Malayalam as a case study.
Indic scripts have abundant conjunct characters (basic characters combined to form a distinct shape). The same characters may join ‘horizontally’ (e.g. ത്സ/thsa) or ‘vertically/stacked’ (e.g. സ്ത/stha); and Malayalam script in particular has plenty of stacked conjuncts even in contrast with other Indic scripts. This peculiarity also makes the glyph design of fonts challenging — to balance aesthetics, legibility/readability and leading/line spacing. Specifically, following the usual x-height/cap-height/ascender/descender metrics used in Latin fonts put a lot of constraints in the design of stacked conjuncts. We propose to break away from this conventional metrics and adopt different proportions of the above- and below-base glyphs (even if they are the same characters, e.g. സ in the double conjunct സ്സ), still conforming to the aesthetics of the script yet managing the legibility and leading.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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. .
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].
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 .
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 . 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.
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.
With this background,
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 .
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.
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:
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.”
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  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].
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.
The original author of ‘mlym.sty’ file  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  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  without attributing the authors, and  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  and redirect to  instead, or (b) credit the original authors in .
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.
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.
RIT has added proper copyright statements to all the software used in building its fonts, viz. ‘Sundar’ and ‘ TN Joy’ [11,12].
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.
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.
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 daily 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.