Do You Know Who Owns Your Book Cover?

POSTED ON Jul 25, 2014

Helen Sedwick

Written by Helen Sedwick

Home > Blog > Cover Design, Legal Issues, Self-Publishing > Do You Know Who Owns Your Book Cover?

By Helen Sedwick

You understand the importance of an eye-catching book cover. You spend hours (and dollars) designing, tweaking, and testing. In the end, you, the self-publishing author, own your book cover, right?

Then how does this happen?


Or this?


Or this?

hands on head

Don’t assume someone is stealing here. These look-alikes were probably innocent and unfortunate errors. Someone did not do their homework.

If big-name publishers make these mistakes, then self-publishers are more at risk. How can the self-publishing writer avoid a look-alike cover? Here’s how.

Avoid non-exclusive, ready-made covers.

Thousands of ready-made book covers are available on the internet for little or no money. Ready-made covers are great time and money savers, but be forewarned–you get what you pay for.

CreateSpace, and others offer free, easy-to-use covers, complete with images and handful of font choices. Just type in your title, name and some info, and you could make a cover in less than an hour. Other sites, such as Cover Design Studio, offer ready-made covers for under $50. Their covers take a little more work to customize, but are still bargains.

However, your rights to free and inexpensive ready-made covers are non-exclusive. That means anyone and everyone may use the same cover. You could find dozens of books looking just like yours. If you are serious about marketing your book, avoid non-exclusive covers. They are useful only for books you hand out to friends and family.

If you are going to use a ready-made cover, stick with exclusive covers. Designers are getting into the business is selling ready-made, one-of-a-kind covers. Check out and Author Marketing Club. These exclusive covers are more expensive than non-exclusive covers, but are less expensive than custom covers.

Be sure the designer’s site states that they will sell the pre-made cover only once. Once you buy it, the cover is marked as SOLD or removed from the site. If in doubt, email the designer and ask for clarification.

Keep in mind that even exclusive, pre-made covers rely on stock images, which opens the next can of worms.

If you use stock images, do your homework

Stock image sites such as IStockPhoto, Dreamstime and ShutterStock sell licenses to millions of images at reasonable prices. Their “royalty-free” images may be used for an unlimited number of e-books and typically 249,999 printed covers and bookmarks. However, these licenses are non-exclusive, so anyone else may purchase the same image and use it.

Some sites offer exclusive licenses at significantly higher prices. One of my favorites is Illustration Source.

Professional book cover designers use stock images even for custom covers. That is reasonable so long as they disclose this information.

To minimize the risk of look-alike covers:

  • Before you settle on an image, upload the image onto Google Images and run a search. If you find fifteen pages of links to websites, blogs and even worse, book covers, consider using a less popular image.
  • Modify the image using editing software such as PhotoShop. For an idea of how images may be manipulated, take a look at this clip from Huffington Post.
  • Avoid stereotypical images. (I made this mistake by putting a howling coyote on the cover of Coyote Winds.)

coyote covers

Get exclusive rights from your designer

If you engage a designer, particularly to provide custom illustrations or photography, be sure the designer transfers to you the copyright or exclusive rights to the final design.

The websites of many designers are strangely silent about who owns the final cover. The author should own the final cover once the designer has been paid in full. (Typically, the designer retains ownership of all rejected designs.) While it would be foolish for a professional designer to reused custom work regardless of any legal document, ask the designer to transfer to you in writing ownership of, or an exclusive license to use, the final cover in all formats and technology. An email will work.

Keep in mind the designer can only transfer what he or she owns. If the designer used non-exclusive stock images, then you may have the right to use the images as incorporated into you cover, but not the images them.

Create your own cover

The safest route is to create your own cover using your own images and design work. Using one of The Book Designer’s templates will help you create a cover with the right measurements. With enough talent and patience, you could end up with a unique and compelling look.

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of a professional-looking cover. Avoid the homemade look. Spend some time looking at The Books Designer’s E-book Cover Design Awards, and you’ll learn to spot weak title placement and the pasted-together look. You don’t want your cover to end up here — Lousy Book Covers.

To learn more about how to protect your rights, check out my book, Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook and my blog.

Sedwick.HeadshotHelen Sedwick, is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. She is also an author and a California attorney with thirty years of experience representing businesses and entrepreneurs. Her latest book is Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing.

You can find more information about Helen here.

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

Helen Sedwick

Written by
Helen Sedwick

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