Whose Font Is It Anyway? The Battle for Hadassah

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

The daughter of the man who designed the Hadassah typeface this week sued a firm that sells Hebrew fonts for copyright infringements.

In her NIS 4.5 million suit against the Israeli-based Masterfont, TheMarker illustrator Hanna Tal claims that the firm sold the well-known typeface for years without her permission.

Tzvika and Piki Rosenberg, Masterfont's owners, said through their attorney that the compensation which Tal is seeking is "fantastically high," and that she fails to present evidence that she indeed holds the copyright for the typeface.

Tal's father, Henri Friedlander, designed the popular typeface over three decades, completing his oeuvre in 1958, after immigrating to Israel. Friedlander, a German-born Holocaust survivor who spent Word War II in hiding in the Netherlands, continued to develop the typeface while living in an attic, hidden by his wife.

After the war he continued to research and refine his creation. Tal says that experts have described the end product as "a unique and original work of art with a groundbreaking style."

According to her, Masterfont's management contacted her in January 2008 and admitted to her that the firm had made unauthorized use of the typeface, including selling it from its catalog of computer typefaces and selling licences to use the design. Tal also claims the company made changes to the typeface and sold different versions of it. "Any change to the shape of the typeface distorts my father's creation," Tal said.

Masterfont, according to Tal, offered to sue copyright violators in Tal's name. But she says that she has learned that among the alleged copyright violators were clients who paid Masterfont for the right to use the typeface.

Ayala, Hanna Tal's daughter - who encouraged her mother to initiate the lawsuit - says that she and her mother are not very disturbed about individuals and companies using the Hadassah typeface for free. "What bothers us is that some people traded in the typeface without permission," she said. The suit, she says, is a fight for her grandfather's life work.

"All through the war he was stuck in that attic, sitting and designing that typeface," Ayala related. "Had he been caught he would have been executed, along with his wife, on the spot. And he continued to work on the typeface after he immigrated to Israel."

The digital age has obscured the greatness of a good typeface, Ayala says. "In today's cyber world, even children can create typefaces very easily with special software," she says. "But my grandfather spent years on finding the exact right style for the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the aleph."