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Book cover design copyright: Everything you need to know

Vasylysa
4 minute read
11.11.2022

The issue of copyright is acute for all artists, and writers are no exception. If the question “Who owns a literary work?” is evident in this case, what about the book cover?

Today we want to open the curtain and find out who owns book cover design copyright and whether writers need at all while a License to use exists.

Is the book cover design copyrighted?

Copyright means the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of artistic work.

Since a book cover is a piece of art, its copyright automatically arises at the moment of creating this work, and a priori belongs to the creator unless otherwise stipulated by the contract.

In most countries, the concept of copyright is the same, but the term of validity may differ. In the USA and Great Britain, copyright lasts for 70 years after the author’s death, but in Canada, this term is 50 years

However, you should distinguish between copyright and license to use an image, in our case, a book cover.

Copyright vs. Licence to use

It doesn’t mean you automatically obtain the copyright if you’ve paid an artist or designer for a book cover. You get a license to use the image under the conditions stipulated in the contract. However, this is usually enough for authors. You can easily use the cover in online bookstores and your advertising. But, there may be restrictions on using the image for printed books and products. Therefore, discover all the details before cooperating with a book cover designer.

For some writers, it is vital to own the copyright of their book covers. It is possible only if the artist who created the image from scratch transfers this right in written form.

How does the book cover design copyright work for indie authors?

When creating a book cover, self-published authors usually have two options: make the image themselves or hire a professional book cover designer. Each variant has its peculiarities regarding copyright, so let’s consider them in more detail.

1. You created a book cover by yourself

  • Using special online tools

Fortunately, today the web offers many paid and free tools with ready-made templates for creating book covers. At the same time, each platform provides its  License for use and, in most cases, does not grant you the copyright for the finished image.

For example, let’s take such a popular tool as Canva, which offers a separate section for creating book covers. If you use elements from the platform library, you must comply with Canva’s Content License Agreement. Even free items, such as those from Pixabay or Pexels, are regulated by separate licenses.

Don’t worry, though. These licenses usually don’t impose any particular restrictions on the use of the finished book cover. You simply won’t own the copyright.

The exception is using your images and elements to create a book cover when you only use Canva to put the pieces together. However, this does not include individual stock images regulated by their exploitation licenses.

  • Drawing it from scratch

If you drew your book cover from scratch, the copyright belongs to you as the creator. Register your artwork right away to avoid any problems in the future.

However, if you add ready-made fonts from the Adobe library, for example, then remember that such fonts are copyrighted. But a paid license allows you to use them for personal and commercial purposes without restrictions.

  • Turned to AI-generated images

Midjourney is an AI platform that creates incredible images of fictional worlds and characters. Unsurprisingly, some indie authors have used such images for their covers. However, this can bring trouble in the matter of copyright.

This way of creating art appeared relatively recently. Therefore, legislators have not yet reviewed copyright and made changes to laws concerned with digital art produced by Midjourney and similar software. Of course, you can use such images without restrictions. However, at the same time, any other person can use your picture without limitations, and you will not be able to protect your work.

2. You hired a professional book cover designer

  • Illustrated book cover

It includes 3D modeling as well. In this case, the copyright belongs to the artist. You must agree to all terms of use of the book cover in advance. If you plan to print the book and use the images to make merch, discussing this separately is essential. 

The creator can also assign the copyright to you in written form. However, not all designers agree to do it, as they do not want anyone to change and modify their work in the future, as it is already a finished work of art. 

  • Stock photo manipulation

A large number of covers are created using stock photo manipulation. Each stock comes with its license, which dictates how often the image can be used in digital and print formats.

For example, Shutterstock offers Standard and Enhanced licenses. They both provide unlimited web distribution. But when it comes to printed products, Standard has a limit of 500,000 copies, while Enhanced has no restrictions.

Book cover designers usually purchase licenses to use stock images in their work. Therefore, be sure to find out what license they use and what it entails before cooperation. If you plan to print more than 500,000 copies of your book, you may need to pay extra for the images used.

Cooperation with a book cover designer by the example of the Getcovers team

Let’s see how copyright and license to use work cooperating with our company. According to our Terms and Conditions, Getcovers retains copyright and ownership of all design and draft materials. When ordering our design, the authors purchase a Standard License that allows them to:

  • Sell an unlimited number of ebooks and promote the book
  • Use a print cover to sell up to 500,000 physical copies of books.

However, if writers want to print a run of over 500,000 units, they have to purchase an additional license for each stock photo that has a major role in the cover design.   

Also, the authors must buy an Extended License when they want to use the cover design in any other way other than ebook and paperback cover.

It’s time to recap

All book covers are copyrighted, so no one has the right to use your cover for their purposes with impunity. However, the copyright does not belong to the writer unless they drew the image themself or created it from their photographs. Also, the writer can obtain the copyright for the cover from the artist in written form.

However, a writer does not need to own the cover’s copyright to use it to promote their book in digital and print formats. It is enough for them to have a License for use, the terms they should read in advance.

There are cases when it makes sense for a writer to own a copyright. For example, the author plans huge runs of various merch products, which design will be based on the book cover. Another case is when the author wants to change the book cover design in the future when re-realizing the book.

Have you ever had a problem with the License to use for book covers? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Vasylysa In her spare time, Vasylysa likes reading books, writing fiction, gardening, and walking. She hopes to publish her own book and become a famous author one day.
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