I would like to point out a few important legal aspects about book covers and copyright. Some authors may not be aware of these factors, but they are responsible nevertheless. If you want the truth, you have come to the right place. I often talk myself out of business, but I do go to bed at night with a clear conscience. Pay close attention to your Cover Copyright.
If you do not pay your own stock photography, you do not own it (if you buy exclusive rights — macrostock), or have the rights to use it (microstock). This includes your actual book cover. Please, listen to me when I say that I know enough about the photography business to advise. Feel free to argue, and I will not engage with you, but the truth remains as such: the person who actually buys the rights to use the artwork holds that right. It does not pass on to their customers, relatives, offspring, or through osmosis.
Now, it is easy enough to simply call up the book cover designer, and get him (or her) to state that he did actually design your cover for commercial use. The designer holds the receipt for the purchase and can provide the proof. Great, so now all is well in ‘coverland’, but what if the designer has moved to another town? Or died? What if the cover designer was unscrupulous and used unlicensed artwork? Well, that is your problem, isn’t it? The designer didn’t distribute the artwork, the author did that him- or herself. The person who owns the rights to the artwork will not go after the designer: the target will be the person who used the said artwork. The law of copyright is simple and ignorance will not save you from an expensive court case that you will surely lose. Just because the cover designer has the rights to use a certain image, it does not rub off because you paid a ‘design’ fee.
Print Run Restrictions
All stock photography websites have a limit on sales items or ‘print runs’? I will stick out my neck and state that almost no one understands this concept. To ensure that a stock photograph is not used endlessly, and handed down to future generations, some restrictions are placed on the artwork. One of them is how the image can be used.
Another is to restrict the end-product to a certain limit, or ‘run’. It is often a round figure like 500 000 copies. Yes, you are reading correctly. If you sell half a million books, and I sincerely hope you do, you need to purchase an extended licence for any photographs that are used in your cover design.
Most of the fonts that are installed on your computer do not grant you the right to use them commercially. What you ‘think’ about this matter is immaterial to the reality of copyright law. Similarly, just because you can download a really nice font from a site for free, it doesn’t mean you can use it commercially.
The onus is on you to make sure that the licence extends to commercial application. Sometimes, font usage is restricted to your own private use only. This means that even if your book is free, you still cannot use the font if you plan to distribute.
What I have discussed here is the worst-case scenario, but now you have the information. In reality, most stock photography can be used to create derivative artworks such as your cover. Just know that you do not have the proof if someone asks you to provide the receipts.
The reason why many book cover designers include stock photography in their fee is because they have already bought the artwork, and used it too — numerous times. Most won’t tell you this, of course. Think about it: if you have to buy a tool, you want to get the maximum benefit from the purchase. The issue with microstock is that it is almost certain that popular images have been used already. If you are happy with that, then you are set to go. If you want a unique cover, it will require specialised attention and possibly additional artwork or photography. A decent graphics artist can alter an image enough to make it fairly distinct, but you cannot get that sort of service cheaply.
Do you need a book cover designed? I will tell you the truth, and I don’t churn out my design by the dozen. To me it is an art. So let me ask you this: will you invest in your own book? If not, how can you expect the same of your readers?
You may also want to read an older article I wrote on copyright.