This post features an interview with Stephanie, the cover designer behind Alt19 Creative and addresses the important topic of book covers, images, and copyright! Some of these facts might surprise–or even shock–you!
Over the past few years, I’ve seen and heard of multiple issues regarding book covers, images, and copyright. As an author, I deal in words. I’m pretty familiar with how copyright works there.
But when it comes to things like images and book covers, I know I’m not the only author who isn’t always savvy. It’s just not our niche or space to know the ins and outs. We might make a lot of assumptions that are totally incorrect because it’s not our wheelhouse.
From the blogging world, I know that using the incorrect image can result in massive fines. (See my post on stock photos and images for more on this and some stock photos sources!) The same can be true when it comes to our book covers and related images or illustrations.
Because, again, this is NOT my wheelhouse, I sent some questions over to Stephanie of Alt19 Creative to discuss things authors should know and may not know regarding book covers, images, and copyright.
A little about Stephanie … she is the book designer at Alt 19 Creative and has worked with me on multiple books like my royals series and the rebrands of the Love Clichés. Whenever I have questions, she’s my go-to!
AN INTERVIEW WITH A BOOK COVER DESIGNER ON BOOK COVERS, IMAGES, AND COPYRIGHT FOR AUTHORS
When an author gets a cover from the designer, where and how can they use the cover?
Most cover designers will retain the copyright of the cover and license it to you for use for your book cover design only and anything related to the promotion of the book.
Very few designers offer what is called “work for hire” (this is for the United States—other countries vary). Work for hire means you, the author, will retain the copyright of the final cover design. This is rare and would be costly. In this situation, you can do whatever you want. However, if stock images were used to build the cover, the underlying stock images have a license attached stating the original photographer/artist retains the copyright of the image(s). Therefore, only the final design of the cover belongs to you.
In most cases, your designer has terms and conditions on their website, or they will provide you a contract regarding the book cover. Be sure to read over this fine print for specific details regarding on what you can and can’t do. If they don’t provide a contract or what you can and can’t do with the cover, be sure to ask if you are concerned. Some cover designers will only provide when asked, or they don’t have enough experience to know what needs to be laid out in the contract to cover themselves as well as the author purchasing the cover.
ALT 19 Creative’s statement: Because we want you to be as successful as possible with any book cover we design, we’re not strict when it comes to copyright as long as you follow the underlying licensing for any stock images used in a cover created by Alt 19 Creative and as long as you don’t change anything on the cover without our permission. Our terms state that we give you “exclusive rights” to use the artwork for your book cover and associated promotional materials for an indefinite time period. We also state that you are responsible for the licensing rules of the images and fonts used. When you purchase a cover from us where we provide custom illustrations (including the characters and background), you are given exclusive rights, including merchandise rights, again, as long as you don’t change anything without our permission.
Can they author crop or edit or manipulate the cover? What about dropping down for social media images?
In most cases, you cannot make any changes to the actual design of the cover, which includes cropping, editing, or manipulating in any way. If you are cropping just to show a sneak preview for a promotional aspect, that should be okay. Always check with your designer if you are unsure.
Social media is a promotional tool. Most cover designers give you the rights to use the cover for promotion.
Can authors create and sell swag or merch with the cover or illustrations taken from the cover? (If they can’t sell it, can they make it and give it away?)
Authors can create and sell swag or merchandise with the cover or illustrations taken from the cover ONLY IF the underlying rights to any images used allow this.
Most stock providers, including Shutterstock and Deposit Photos, require additional licensing if the stock image is to be used on merchandise, even promotional merchandise that you make and give away. Most stock images are downloaded with a standard license. For merchandise, you would need an extended license. This cost of this extended license is anywhere between $49 to $99 for EACH stock image used. In some cases, 10 or more stock images were used to create a cover. Purchasing an extended license for each image would be costly. If you do want to create merchandise with your cover on it, check with your designer to see what stock images were used.
Follow up – if authors want to sell and create merch from illustrators or cover designers, what permissions do they need? Is there a cost for this?
If stock was used, purchase the extended license for those images directly from the stock provider to cover yourself legally.
If custom illustrations/photos were used, be sure to ask what permissions you have for those. If not for merchandise, ask what is needed to do so.
Also, some stock providers prohibit use of stock images on POD (excludes books in most cases) products using services such as RedBubble. Always be sure to read that fine print, no matter how much your eyes gloss over.
ALT 19 Creative’s statement: If you order custom character covers from us, you are given exclusive rights to sell the illustrations on items such as stickers, t-shirts, bookmarks, etc. You can’t sell the actual characters to someone else to use on their products (DUH!).
Sometimes fans get into this. If a fan is creating and selling merch or swag with covers, is that okay? What should authors do if they see this happening?
This can be a very gray area as well as a public relations matter. However, if the fan is selling the merchandise or swag, in most cases, it technically is against the licensing and copyright, especially if a cover designer or stock provider polices the use of their artwork.
If you find this happening, you need to ask yourself if it bothers you. If not, I wouldn’t worry about it. If it does, you could reach out to the person selling the item with the cover and mention there are licensing/copyright issues with them selling the item. They are profiting off of your success. You could also ask your cover designer about it. The cover designer would have every right to send them a cease-and-desist statement. Just know there may be a public relations backlash with doing this.
On another note, if you have a wildly successful book that people are wanting to create swag/merchandise using the book cover, you and your cover designer could always come up with a licensing arrangement to offer. Disney, the NFL, and many other companies offer official licensing of their brand, of course, for a (lofty in some cases) fee.
Can you think of anything else authors maybe don’t realize about covers or working with a designer?
The most important takeaway is to cover yourself!
Back when scrapbooking was the rage, I did design work in the industry. One company created stickers using a personal use only font. They were sued and lost. When it comes to fonts, be sure you are using ONLY commercial fonts. Check that your designer is only using commercial fonts.
I often do interior formatting where I didn’t design the book cover. For cohesive purposes, I often want to use the font used on the book cover for certain elements of the interior. I’ve had a lot of cases where the original book cover designer, even so-called professional ones, used personal use only fonts for the cover design. This cannot happen! As an author, do your due diligence to make sure the right rights are in place to release you from any liability.
Many years ago, I was working with an author on the interior of her book. She had another designer for the book cover. The cover designer used an image of a (unknown at the time) celebrity/model on the book cover (from a random image they found on the internet), unbeknownst to her. The celebrity-model sued her for a lot more money than her book ever made.
When real people are used, even if used to create illustrations, it’s important to have a model release. Most legitimate photographers and stock providers have model releases on file. Free stock sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash do not require model releases. Use these stock sites at your own risk (preferably, don’t use them AT ALL).
Fiverr designers are notorious for not following copyright issues. Buyer beware! If you hire one to create illustrations for you and they use a stock photograph as a base to trace, did you know that some stock providers will tell you that you need an extended license for that even though it’s a derivative work? I don’t believe it would hold up in court but who wants to go to the trouble of going to court? Cover yourself!
Another note regarding Fiverr . . . I’ve had to send cease and desist emails to Fiverr because certain providers would pop up on their site USING MY BOOK COVERS in their portfolio. I know the appeal of getting something cheap, and yes, in certain countries, what you pay them is a fare wage. However, would using them be covering yourself?
Did I say cover yourself (and not just with clothing)? 😊
Although I’m not a lawyer, I have been working in the industry for a very long time. If you ever have any specific questions, I may be able to answer or at least point you in the (hopefully) right direction.
Wow. There are a LOT of things that authors might not consider because design isn’t our main profession. But we are in a profession, so we need to make sure we’re being careful (or covered–wink, wink) when it comes to images and fonts.
I think the best thing to do is make sure we’re sourcing things from reputable sources. Use paid stock photo sites. Use designers who know what they’re doing. Ask for contracts and make sure they have purchased the correct licenses for their images used. Make sure you have commercial fonts and that your images licenses are the right ones.
If you want to reach out to Stephanie, you can find her at Alt 19 Creative! I’m so grateful for her information and to have her as a resource!