Let’s Not Get Sued! Image Licensing 101

It happens nearly every time an author comes to us. They are a smart, literate person—they’ve written an entire book, so we should hope they are.

They’ve done their research on how best to market their book. They’ve hired an amazing editor and top notch book designers to craft a beautiful cover and interior for their masterpiece. And they’ve even created their own landing page to announce the coming of their next publication.

But there is a big problem. Their landing page, out there for all to see, contains a mistake that could cost them anywhere from $100 to $100,000.

It contains a photo.

  The photo featured above would not actually get anyone in trouble. It is from Unsplash photographer Florian Klauer. Its license is CC0. I don’t have to credit the photographer or the source. But I am. For you.

The photo featured above would not actually get anyone in trouble. It is from Unsplash photographer Florian Klauer. Its license is CC0. I don’t have to credit the photographer or the source. But I am. For you.

Not just any photo of course. Like most photos you can find on the internet, this one belongs to someone, often the photographer, who has licensed it to prevent people from using it without their permission, or without paying them first.

As designers we frequently deal with image licensing so we often are able to catch our authors’ mistakes early on. When this happens we quickly and discreetly inform our client so that they can take the image down before they end up paying the equivalent of a down payment on a medium-sized house for their transgression.

If you’re self-publishing a book, image licensing is extremely important to think about, even before you begin the design process.

Here are some solutions to help keep you and your designer from being sued, and to keep photographers everywhere from starving.

  This moodboard from Flickr was created by  angellea . It's CC2.0, so I’m legally required to tell you or   she can kick my butt (in the court of law). It also includes photos from users  procsilas,   psd,  and  lrargerich , so angellea was required to credit those photographers when she posted this to Flickr.

This moodboard from Flickr was created by angellea. It's CC2.0, so I’m legally required to tell you or she can kick my butt (in the court of law). It also includes photos from users procsilas, psd, and lrargerich, so angellea was required to credit those photographers when she posted this to Flickr.

You can have your “moodboard.” You can’t use it too.

You’ve probably been collecting images and design ideas for cover inspiration since you started working on your manuscript. Those images are extremely helpful for designers to understand your vision for your work and you should absolutely send them along for reference.

You should not expect your designer to use any of those images specifically, especially if you cannot remember exactly where you found them 5 chapters ago.

Treat them as what they should be: inspiration. You’ve hired a professional book designer to create something unique and beautiful to make your book stand out as a best seller. Trust them to find a way to do so using your moodboard and their expertise.

 

Tell your designer where you found any images you send them

If you can remember where you found an image, and you think it might be usable send that information along to your designer. A good designer will be able to tell you the necessary steps to license an image for commercial use.

Side note: Your book more than likely does not fall under Fair Use. You are selling it for money therefore it is a commercial product. If you want to argue with someone about that, argue with Emma, not a judge, it will cost you less money.

If you absolutely need a specific image, expect to pay for it

  This perfect picture for your book about a giraffe trying to make his way in the big city is from Gratisography. And it’s free for you to use.

This perfect picture for your book about a giraffe trying to make his way in the big city is from Gratisography. And it’s free for you to use.

Sometimes you find the perfect image the first time, and you just have to have it. If this is the case speak with your designer and let them know.They should be familiar with the best way of licensing the image and should be able to direct you through that process.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $100-$3000 to license an image for use on a book cover.

Warning: Deciding to purchase an image often limits your designer, and might prevent them from designing an amazing cover that you have not yet thought of. Consider options listed below before you commit to one image, and consult with your designer first.

 

Look for similar images in the public domain

If you’re familiar at all with the public domain you’ve probably heard of it related to books where the author died and the copyright expired a certain number of years after their death, allowing anyone to print and distribute their work. These same rules apply to illustrations, photographs, film, and audio.

Some old graphics, illustrations and photographs in the hands of the right designer can be transformed into a unique, modern, and edgy book cover.

  This cover features graphics from The Graphics Fairy and type from a scannable Dover Type Specimen Book. Graphics of this kind are free to use for any purpose.

This cover features graphics from The Graphics Fairy and type from a scannable Dover Type Specimen Book. Graphics of this kind are free to use for any purpose.

Here are some of our favorite resources to find such images.

  Most digital collections will contain public domain works. Filtering by license type can help you find them. 

Most digital collections will contain public domain works. Filtering by license type can help you find them. 

Learn your Creative Commons

You don't have to limit yourself to vintage graphics. Stock photography has changed significantly thanks to the Creative Commons. Now, extremely talented photographers can contribute their works for public use. These photos might not be exactly what you’re looking for, but the right designer can find a way to transform these images into the perfect cover.

Our favorite sites for these images include:

Warning: Under Creative Commons, some photos can be used for free but require you to give credit to the photographer. Other photos can be used for free but they cannot be used for commercial use (like a book). Make sure to read a photo's license agreement before using it. 

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This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to image and photo rights, but with this information you can at least rest easy knowing that you probably won’t get sued.

It bears repeating that a good designer will know what additional steps to take to make sure that you and your book are safe from legal action.

If you have any additional questions feel free to reach out to us.