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Since Helvetica comes with all Macs, and I have bought a Mac, does that mean that I can use that font commercially? For example in a banner or website header?

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You can use the font (technically your readers will use the font, if they have it), but you many not (necessarily) redistribute it. –  Andrew J. Brehm Jan 12 '12 at 14:06
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2 Answers

Yes, buying the OS includes the license to use these fonts in derivative work, like graphics, even for commercial applications.

You can however not redistribute the font in any way. Font embedding in websites through the @font-face CSS feature for example qualifies as redistributing the font (even if it is in another format), and requires a seperate license.

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Not a lawyer, but my understanding is that once you use a font to create something, such as a banner, what you have is a work and not a font, and the work may be distributed. Embedding a font (as with @font-face) is trickier in that there is typically a restriction in your EULA against transferring a font, which you might have to do if the target server does't have a copy.

In the case of Helvetica it's quite likely that the target server -does- have a license, since Helvetica is ubiquitous. If you are worried, you can always use a similar font (and there are hundreds that look just like Helvetica) that has a more lenient license.

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Regarding @font-face, wether or not the hosting server has the font installed is irrelevant, as the font files will be downloaded to the client's computer, effectively creating a copy of the font file to every visitor of your site. This is why font embedding is regarded as redistributing the font. There are indeed fonts with more lenient licenses, but this certainly is not the case for the fonts that come with MacOS X. –  Gerry Jan 12 '12 at 14:12
    
This is not true, if you were to use an image in an advert the image is still an image, in the same way a font is still a font. It has a copyright and you must have a license to use it. –  Graeme Hutchison Jan 12 '12 at 14:34
    
Every device under the sun will have a Helvetica-like font to use, so embedding it really isn't needed (unless you want a very specific version to be used). –  CyberSkull Jan 12 '12 at 14:34
    
@GraemeHutchison IIRC There are special laws for fonts in the US that make this not exactly the same as using an image. And "using" isn't what applies to copyright - but if you use an image in an ad you are copying and distributing the image; if you use a font you are NOT copying and distributing the font (except in that someone could cut it up ransom-note-style) –  Random832 Jan 12 '12 at 14:52
    
@Random832 the error here, is that the OP refers to teh font, where he really means the typeface. A font is just the computer file that renders teh typeface in teh size colour etc. A font is not copywrited, as you say you cannot distribute a font on an ad. However what you are doing is using the typeface which is subject to copyright laws. –  Graeme Hutchison Jan 12 '12 at 15:04
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