Copyright – What is it, and do I need it for my book design?
“The most important thing about intellectual property vs. creative expression is that copyright law was created not to stifle creativity but to encourage creativity.” - Shepard Fairey
Whether you plan to self-publish or traditionally publish, the cover design of your book is a piece of intellectual property that’s completely separate from the book itself, and it’s essential that you understand your rights and how they differ between the cover and the written content inside.
So, what is copyright?
Copyright is a type of intellectual property (IP) that gives the owner exclusive rights to use (and distribute) an original work. The primary aim of copyright is to protect original works, and it can be applied to many types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, books, and much more.
Copyright relating specifically to design means that the exact form and appearance of the finished work is being protected.
In traditional publishing, the publishing house handles book design copyright on behalf of the author, usually via an in-house designer. However, when self-publishing, the author must ensure that they have the correct copyright for their book cover design.
However, it’s important to note that the way the author puts together their book cover design can affect the copyright and the limitations on its use.
Typically, the person who creates the cover design holds the copyright. So, if you were to create your own cover design using your own images that you’d taken yourself, you would own the full copyright.
However, if you were to use a book design tool such as Canva, or if you sourced images or fonts from stock websites, you’d need to be aware of the limitations that apply to each image or image license, even when an image or design is ‘free’. For example, some copyright licenses will allow you to use an image online but not in print, others may allow you to only use an image if you’re not advertising a product or service, and some will ask that you credit them in your book. So, you must research the license for any image or book cover element used to ensure that they’re fit for purpose.
If you hire a designer to create your book cover, they’ll usually own the copyright, unless you have a contract in place or a written agreement that transfers the copyright to you, the author. However, many designers won’t do this and will instead license the cover to you, meaning that you also can’t change the design without their permission.
The designer will usually create a book cover using various elements that they’ve sourced and obtained licenses or copyright for, i.e., stock images, and may not be able to transfer these to you.
It’s also important to check that your designer has the correct licenses for any images, fonts, or other elements they use in your design to ensure that you don’t infringe on the copyright.
When you use a designer, you must also remember to credit them in your book. The industry standard is to include a cover design credit on the copyright page at the front of your book, and you can check with your designer to be sure that you add the correct details if you’re unsure.
These agreements between author and designer entitle you to claim the book design as your book cover and use it when promoting and selling your book. They also prevent your designer from selling your book or a recreation of your cover.
If you fail to seek the necessary copyright or license for your chosen book design, you could face a serious copyright infringement charge. The same would also apply if someone else used your design without your consent. So, it's essential that you understand which rights apply to your book cover and how you can use them.