fingeralphabet.org

Reliable Sign Language Alphabets

FAQ

Whenever I find the time I come here to answer some of the added questions.

Unfortunately, I am a bit behind.

Still, if you have a question that is not mentioned below, please contact me.

General

Are you deaf?

No. I am not deaf.
Although my parents would argue that I might be a bit hard-of-hearing.

Do you know sign language?

No, unfortunately, I don’t.

I learned the Brazilian sign language alphabet when I was a kid and used to fingerspell with my friends.

At present, I am working with so many different alphabets that I am getting all mixed up. I cannot even use the Brazilian hand alphabet anymore. After finishing this project, I’d really like to learn a sign language – I have still to decide which one, though.

If you are not deaf and don’t know sign language then why are you doing this project?

It feels like it was fate.

I do not have the impression that I choose this project, but rather that it was the project that chose me to take care of it.

How did fingeralphabet.org get startet?

It started by chance and due to many small coincidences.
I wrote about some of it here.

Can I still get that first postcard?

Unfortunately, I have but one or two left – which I keep for sentimental reasons :).

It was not the most beautiful postcard in the world. I had spent so much time with the research, that I literally ran out of time to do the layout. On top of it, it was the very first time I used a vector graphic software (Adobe Illustrator) which was a bit daunting.

But the really big issue was that the postcard contained two signs that were shown from the wrong angle. So it was really not advisable to have it reprinted. I had a second postcard later, which was much nicer (and also correct), but it is out of stock, too.

If you are interested, you can have a look at the original postcard here.

If you are German, why is this site (fingeralphabet.org) in English?

Frankly, a lot more people understand English than German.

What plans do you have for fingeralphabet.org in the future?

I’ll tell you soon. First, though, I need to get this new website finished.

I am also an illustrator/artist/writer. Can I help you with the material?

That’s a nice offer. Thanks!

Unfortunately, due to the legal implications (and complications) of copyright, I rather not involve any other creative in the process.

Remember, copyright is a huge topic and constantly evolving. Even the Creative Commons Licenses are not as easy as they appear at first.

My suggestion: look around you. There are so many issues in this world. So many things that need to be tackled and explained. Go where your heart leads you and find a way to help. It will be valuable.

Copyright

Disclaimer – I’m no lawyer, and this is no legal advise. 

Don’t you need copyright for the reference material to illustrate the alphabets?

Simply put:
No, I do not need a copyright license on existing material, because I am making NEW material.

There is a lot of confusion about copyright, so let me explain:

As a professional artist and illustrator, I know how important copyright is.

Unfortunately, most people are clueless and careless about it which leads to a lot of problems for all of us. So let’s talk about it for a minute in regard to alphabets.

The abstract idea of the alphabet can be used by anybody. You cannot copyright an idea, only very specific implementations of that idea.

Just imagine if you needed to clear the copyright for every letter you handwrote because you are using the alphabet … That would be quite annoying.

While there is no copyright attached to the abstract IDEA of the alphabet, specific “illustrations” (or versions) of the alphabet do have a copyright holder. This copyright holder, be it a person or company, can then decide how to license his specific version of the alphabet. So the copyright holder decides if the alphabet becomes public domain, or if people who want to use it have to pay for certain types of licenses.

The font families “Arial”, “Helvetica”, “Courier” etc. that we like to use when working on our computers, are such an example of “specific illustration”. They are clearly defined and recognizable. And they are copyrighted in one way or another. You should check every time you do something for commercial purposes, if you have the right to do so or if you need to get a license first.

The “A” in Helvetica looks different than the “A” in Arial, but they are both “A”s. If you sit down and design your own version of “A”, you would be the copyright holder of this specific “A” IF it has enough difference to already existing ones. So you cannot just retrace something that is already there and claim copyright. It has to be something unique.

The same goes for the illustrations of the various manual alphabets. It is not the alphabet that is copyrighted, but the very specific illustrations or the photographs of the manual alphabet.

Even badly done illustrations with mistakes and smears, illegible ones, would also have copyright. Someone made them. And this person has a right to refuse that you use or reproduce them. The copyright holder has also a right to sue you if you use his work without a proper license.

So, yes, copyright is a serious business.

In this specific case here, I am doing totally new illustrations. So yes, the copyright would be mine. It cannot be any other way if I make different and new illustrations. This is important: I am not simply tracing illustrations that are already there, I am making totally new ones!
And as a copyright holder, I can decide how to allow others to use the material I publish here. If I want to hand it out for free, then this is my decision.

But obviously, even if I am making new illustrations, they need to be correct to be useful. If you type an “A” on your keyboard, you do not want to get a “B”.

And this is why I am reaching out to the Organisations of the Deaf worldwide. Because all the hand positions vary a bit and the reference material that I find is often not good enough to show these slight but important variations.

So, to summarize, you really do not need to worry if it is ok that I draw a new version of the alphabet. Because it is ok. By collecting reference material I am not infringing on any copyright. And by illustrating my own material I am by definition in a totally safe position. So if I, as the copyright-holder, decide to give you a creative commons license to use my material for free, you are in a safe position, too, as long as you stick to what the license allows.

Check it out here: Creative Commons Attibution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0

What does public domain mean?

What is the difference between public domain and a Creative Commons license?

The details of copyright law are rather complex.
And, on top of it, they differ as soon as you cross a border. 

Simply put, after the official copyright status of something runs out, the material usually becomes public domain. But laws differ from country to country and material that is public domain in one country is not necessarily public domain in another. 
Which is one major reason why I create all the material for Project FingerAlphabet myself. 

Fun fact: My illustrations will automatically become public domain in most countries around 70-100 years AFTER MY DEATH! 

Meanwhile, the Creative Commons offers several predefined licenses and license packages for shareable and downloadable material.
You can read all about it on their site.
You can compare it to a McDonald’s Menu: depending on what you order, you can expect to get the same content regardless of your location. Which is important whenever you distribute something online. 

There are several reasons to chose one of the many different Creative Commons licenses, but mostly, they simplify things.
This way, I do not have to grant these licenses individually in writing to everyone who wants to make a copy of the material. 
And it gives the user security from being persecuted for copyright infringement (if they follow the rules that the license stipulates).

I regularly get calls from copyshops and printers who check if the Creative Commons attribution is valid.

A Creative Commons license does not get rid of all complications, but it helps.
If this topic interests you, make sure to do some research – but keep to the reputable expert sites. Or ask a copyright lawyer.

What am I allowed to do with the downloadable fingeralphabet PDFs?

What if I want to publish the material in a book or magazine article?

Just contact me for a fitting commercial license. 
It’s not expensive and you’ll need one. 

What if I need a commercial license for some of the material?

Just contact me with the details. 
It’s not expensive and creative licenses help me fund this project. 

Why is the material not completely free to use on whatever I want?

I had some issues with people mixing and matching the handshapes – basically making wild Frankenstein-style alphabets that looked like they were drawn by me – for countries that I had not yet covered. 
They were not validated. They were not even correct, to begin with. 
That is why I “package” everything as ready-to-go posters with restricted licenses that do not allow modifications. 

I also had issues with a few definitely VERY commercial mass reproduction of the material for big commercial gain (not all of them used for sign language material).
Let’s just say that going after these guys helped pay for the development of quite a few sign language alphabets. 

I’m not making these illustrations for the affluent companies that could easily afford a license any time of the day. This is for schools and private folks who normally have to rely on cheap material, which is often incorrect — or on nothing at all.  Simply because, as a professional illustrator for international clients, I do know quite well how much this kind of work (& licenses) would normally cost. And it is worth that much, too. It is just not something that everyone can afford.

The reason you do not see high-quality illustrations done for cheap distribution is generally that there is little to no market for it.  

In a nutshell, that is why there are limits to the usage I grant. 

 

Why are you drawing everything yourself?

Procedure

Why are there so many works-in-progress and so few alphabets ready for download?

I keep asking myself the same.

But the point is that even though I have quite some alphabets ready to go, I usually struggle to find organizations responding to my email request for approval. And I understand the reasons: it probably looks like a scam or spam when I write these unsolicited emails.

I fear I still have to fight a credibility problem here, the word “free” always sounds suspicious, does it not? Especially at the beginning, with so few downloadable alphabets on my site. I am very hopeful that this problem will diminish with every new alphabet that comes up.

Why are you focussing on European countries first? There are other countries who probably need the alphabets more urgently

I agree. But this question is inseparable from the question above. I am still fighting to get reference material and have it approved by official organizations. So basically what you see under “download” are alphabets from the countries where I managed to get the information that was needed.

90% of the time I am investing into this project right now I am spending writing emails, and that is a bit sad and not really what I had expected. But so it goes. Right now it is a first-come, first-serve situation.

I have to admit, though, that I am focussing a bit on countries where I understand the language, so I can research the internet. So German, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, a bit of French, is where I can do my own individual research for the material.

It will be tougher with other languages, so I am leaving this for the years to come, even though I am totally looking forward to doing the Chinese, Japanese signs, and also the ones for the Arabian countries, but I guess I will need to find me good contacts first.

Why are you working for free? Where is the catch?

There really is no catch. And I usually do not work for free – I am a professional concept artist and illustrator working on my own projects but also for commercial agencies and international organizations/ companies.

I value my time, which is very limited, and I value the quality of my work. My clients value them too, otherwise, they would not be my clients.

BUT there is something else in life than to work for oneself and for paying clients. I value the idea of charity. I like the idea of making the world a better place, even if just in some very tiny way. So this is what I am trying to do here.

I am doing this work by having those people and non-profit organizations in mind, that would under normal circumstances never be able to pay for it.

Why the manual alphabets?
It is quite simply that the manual alphabets are about illustrations, and this is something I am good at. In addition, I found that there is a relevant need for good illustrated material. Just google around a bit, preferably in the database of smaller countries, and you will see what I mean. Small target groups are of little financial interest for potential investors, like publishers for example. Therefore, there is hardly any affordable material.
The US maybe being an exception because of its sheer size and thus a larger target group.

Iceland?
Number of Deaf Sign Language Users: 250

Malta?
Number of Deaf Sign Language Users: 130

Luxembourg?
Number of Deaf Sign Language Users: 250

(Source: EUD)

And these are European countries, where you would expect basic material like alphabets to exist in high quality and to be freely available in all kinds of forms and colors. But is that the reality in Europe? No.
What about countries in the so-called 3rd World? Countries with other much more urgent quests than to provide for a mostly silent minority?

I myself do not care how large the target group of each country might be. I would love to draw ALL the manual alphabets, for ALL the countries. 

Of course, the time I can invest in this idea is limited. That is one of the compromises. But over a couple of years, I hope it all will add up to a meaningful contribution on my part.

So: no, there is no catch. I am just trying to help out a bit.

Books, Merch & Apps

Do I need to buy anything to download the Sign Language Alphabet posters?

Nope.  

Why are there only ebooks?

We are only talking about manual alphabets and basic numbers here. This is good for a poster, but hardly enough information to justify a book in print. 

Ebooks are an exception for being easily created and distributed. They are also the only affordable way to get this information into library systems.

Why do the ebooks cost money?

There are several reasons for this.

One of the reasons is that these books are being distributed by a publisher and publishing costs money. The yearly fixed and variable costs per book are not very high, but they exist. While some of the reference books might sell a bit more than others, most of them will not earn-out. And I would not expect it otherwise.

There are several of the finger alphabet reference books out by now and a few more to come. The aim is to find a sweet spot in the price that will cover the costs.

Remember, nothing is really “free”. It costs money and time to research, make, and maintain. 
My aim is to make the posters available for free. That is what most people come here to find. Everything else is extra and helps cover the costs.

Why don’t you have apps?

There are several reasons for this. The most important is that I am doing everything myself right now to keep the costs down. Fingeralphabet.org’s aim is not to have many fancy products out, but to provide free educational material.

I am thinking about offering additional products, but more in the line of posters and coloring books: simple things that I can set up myself and outsource the distribution while keeping the copyright under control.

It would be nice to provide additional material to help finance the project. But I have to pick and choose carefully and keep the focus.

Why are there not reference books for all the downloadable alphabets?

I am sorry for that. Once or twice a year I will sit down and concentrate on the illustrations for the books – which are a bit different. It is easier and faster if I do them together.

Why don’t you have more things to sell?

I just don’t have the time… 

I would like to buy a large poster. Will you be offering them?

Indirectly, yes. I’m looking to partner with more companies similar to Society6.

Why do you put flags everywhere?

On this site, the flags offer a better form of navigation. Not everyone reads & understands English/German. In fact, a lot of people do not.

ASL Poster Charts 02 Project FingerAlphabet

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