Book Cover Design – The Law

The only way to ensure that you have a one hundred percent original, and copyright infringement free cover for your book is to either make it yourself with all your own images, or purchase a bespoke artwork, specifically created for you. Not everyone is inclined to create their own, and bespoke book covers are very expensive, so many Indies use images bought, or downloaded for free online. Before we actually use these covers, there are a couple of things that we need to know.

All photos and images found online are automatically protected by copyright. If you download any picture without permission or payment, thinking that if you just fiddle with it a bit and change it with a bit of judicious rendering it will be alright, that isn’t true, and you are infringing on the copyright of its owner, and could find yourself in quite a bit of expensive trouble. Even if you didn’t know this when you did it.

All commonly used free images in the Creative Commons have licenses, and it’s very important to read these carefully before using an image. Many of them are free to use and change as you wish for commercial use, but there are often other instructions in the license box. Sometimes there’s a limit to how many of your final product you may sell, and sometimes attribution is required for any use of the image.

If your cover designer has committed copyright infringement in any of the elements on your book cover without you having any clue about it, you are still liable for that infringement from the minute you publish it, so you need to be very sure that any cover you purchase has been made by a designer aware and respectful of these laws.

Thinking that it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever be found out is also not a good idea. Most professional photos and images are fingerprinted so that they can easily be tracked online, no matter how much they’ve been altered. Artists and photographers these days are getting more and more outraged at the theft – innocent or otherwise – of the work that they do in order to earn their livings.

Images in the Public Domain (pre January 1, 1923) are safe to use as you like, although sometimes attribution to the photographer is required. Not very often though. So those are good to go.

Stock images are safe if used correctly – paid for or downloaded from a site like Dreamstime when offered for free. You can do anything you like to them once you have them and use them as many times as you wish. Read licences carefully first to make sure that they aren’t Rights Managed images, because those have restrictions on various uses.

These rules apply to all publishing – including publishing posts on your blog. I’ve been guilty of using images just hoiked off the internet before I knew these things, but now I’m incredibly cautious before using a picture I’m not sure I’m allowed to use. Fortunately one of the biggest boobs I ever accomplished was to delete every single image in my media gallery from the beginning of my blog. I was devastated at the time, but quite relieved now to know that there’s nothing lurking around there anymore that could get me sued.

So now you know all of these things you might be thinking that you’re not going to be able to find anything decent for your cover, but that’s not true. There are great images out there both free or at a cost that you can afford, so go for it intrepid Indies! My last two thoughts on the cover subject would be to be absolutely sure that you trust your cover designer if you take that route, and secondly to check the popularity of a purchased image if you’re planning on using it as is. There are loads of eBook covers out there using different versions of the same image. Same Cover 1Same Cover 2

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35 thoughts on “Book Cover Design – The Law”

  1. Reblogged this on Life Memoirs and commented:
    This is certainly something we all need to be aware of. Besides I would think we all want a unique cover just for our book. Stock images are hardly that.

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  2. Excellent advice and good info to know. I once did a blog post about Mark Twain and I wanted to use the cover from his autobiography as a blog image. Then I thought that the cover design was most likely copyrighted and it would be wiser to use a public domain photo instead. I ended up using a photo of him instead.

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  3. hello; then its a good thing my book editor lorraine reguly went to such lengths to insure that everyone involved in the creation of my cover got credit and got on board including the person who did the formatting for amazon and create space. good advice here, max

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    1. Thank you for the mention, Max. We did everything properly when it came to your motivational and inspirational guidebook to success, Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light. 🙂

      Of course, it’s a good thing I contacted the copyright owner of the image Angela chose! 😉

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  4. yea, very important to remember, which is why nowadays I prefer creating my own images for my blog posts. If ever i get my novel publish ready I would probably go the same route. But I got the skills, so it ain’t no big thing. The only issue is that creating my own images usually takes a bit of time.

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  5. Thank you for this excellent advice! I’m glad you cautioned people to be careful with stock images. I buy image from two different sites, but only use one of these sites for book cover images due to the difference in licensing options. On one site, my purchased images are okay for use on my website or blog, but not for book covers (unless I pay quite a bit extra). If you don’t understand the licensing restrictions, most sites have customer services agents who are willing to answer your questions. They are very helpful.

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    1. Who wants to be caught looking even a little alike? Well… everyone!

      I attended a panel at FantasyCon last September concerning art production. One of the artists there is the guy who did the cover work for the various “Game of Thrones” novels and he was pointing out the trends and fashions of book covers. When something is successful it spawns imitators like crazy precisely because publishers will ask for a similar design, designers will have seen a lot of that style recently, and customers will look at a book and go “that must be like that one with the similar cover.”

      Eventually a new idea or fashion will break through. Shields and graphics are apparently giving way to body parts (not dismembered; the image focusses on a hand holding a dagger, or the back of a helmetted head, rather than showing the whole character).

      The example given is kind of a bad one since it stems out of fairly universal concept. I’d imagine you can find plenty of other books like it. You can almost certainly find good examples in most fantasy books of the less epic variety, especially older ones, where the cover will contain (1) a hero with a sword, (2) a scantily clad woman (who may appear defiant, but is likely unarmed), (3) a threat (dragon, evil wizard, whatever). And this combination will be hand painted in the style of Boris Valjevo. All original. All the same. Because it works.

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      1. I’ve noticed themes indeed, which give the assumption it’s another book by so-and-so because of similarities. I don’t mind, personally, if it’s a series, but I have also noticed or believe I recognize an illustrator because of the type of illustration used.
        You are right. I hadn’t given any thought of saturation with what is hot at the time. Such a complicated world. I’ve seen wonderful and fresh indie covers and am impressed.

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        1. I don’t think I produce much which could be described as original myself. Unique, probably, given that I craft the images myself using 3D modelling software, but I’m aware that I’m following genre conventions in the covers I make quite often. (Though someone said the rather bare original cover of Steel Beneath the Skin really caught their attention, so maybe I get lucky sometimes.)

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  6. Thanks for the info Jo. I am a digital artist and video artist . I create most of my own imagery, however I do use paid for royalty free video and audio clips at times. I do sometimes worry about infringement rights. Check out my blog. I am subscribing to your blog.

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