Book Cover Images and Copyright

Posted May 26, 2014 by Tara Gold in featured, Let's Talk Books, Review /// 41 Comments

Note: I have turned off comments on this post. Please read the existing comments for advice on topic, as I think we have covered the highlights over the past three years and I am not qualified to give advice about specific questions (I am not a copyright lawyer!)

cover images and copyright

I’m creating this post because I get a surprising number of hits on my FAQ page about this specific question! I figure people are googling the question, so crafting a post on it might be helpful for my googlers (kids googling for book reports on The Time Machine, however, are still out of luck).

The question comes from librarians and teachers, and involves some combination of:

  • How can you use copyrighted book cover images on your blog?
  • Do you ask for publisher permission?
  • Is this a copyright violation?
  • Do you have to give credit to the creator?

And this is actually a really fascinating question! When I first started my blog, I showed it to the other middle school librarians in my county. The first (and only) thing they said was that I had to take it down because I was using copyrighted book cover images without permission. One even told me that she wrote the publisher to ask permission for every single cover image she included on her library blog. If permission wasn’t granted (generally due to an unanswered email), she didn’t feature the book. I had a sneaking suspicion there was more to this issue, since I KNEW this one area is a unique issue for copyright law.

I was right.

First, I must say that most of the books I read and review now are books I receive for review, and publishing the review with a cover image is encouraged by the publishers. But even if I purchase the books, publishers want readers sharing cover images! Posting cover images on our blogs is free publicity for books, and even a negative review (especially when written professionally) is publicity for the book. The cover sells the book. Publishers want that book cover to be shared and talked about. Our blogs make money for publishers!

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Second, most cover images I use come from sites like Goodreads and Library Thing. Goodreads is using a bajillion (that’s the technical number, of course) cover images without any complaint from publishers. Again, publishers and authors want to sell books. I’ve always felt fairly comfortable using the images provided on Goodreads.

Using a cover image in a blog post might be considered a reasonable risk. There is a possibility a publisher or author may ask for removal of the image, or even sue, but the risk is quite small. It does not seem worth it to stop this practice out of an unreasonable or overly cautious fear.

Of course, this only applies to cover images! It is never okay to include large chunks of text from novels, photographs from google image searches, artwork, or other more obvious forms of copyright infringement in your blog. Even giving credit to the source is NOT OKAY if you don’t own the material! You should always be sure you either have permission to use the image/text or that the image is available for use (eg, under a Creative Commons license). Bloggers can be, and have been, sued for using copyrighted images on their blogs, so this is an actual risk. Don’t do it!

If you worry about posting an image, there are two options that might be worth considering:

  1. Use thumbnail images (150 pixels). These small images are generally considered fair game for artwork and photography, so a book cover in this size should be legal under copyright law based on precedence set in court cases.
  2. Take your own creative photos of the book. Use an image of you holding up the book, the book next to a cup of coffee, the book on a shelf, etc.

So now I’m in search of a little anecdotal evidence on this topic. I’ve been blogging since 2010 and I’ve never had any publisher express a concern about my use of cover images. I’ve only ever received affirmation for this practice. I also suspect it is a non-issue across the book blogosphere. Book bloggers — have you ever had a publisher (or an author, though they often don’t own the cover images to their books) ask you to remove a cover image for a copyright violation? Has anyone ever been threatened with legal action over just book cover images? Please share your experiences!

Note: I am not a legal expert. The information in this article comes from a combination of personal experience and internet research, but it is not a substitute for professional legal advice on issues of copyright. 

Tara Gold

Tara is a PhD candidate studying education. Her dissertation is on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life...well, that's yet to be determined, but it probably involves getting kids jazzed about books or research. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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41 responses to “Book Cover Images and Copyright

  1. Not using book covers on a book review blog sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. Now that’s taking it too far.

    I use quotes from books in reviews or teasers, but I don’t copy entire paragraphs or pages. A) who wants to type all of that? B) if you can’t write a review without pulling large passages from the book, you’re doing it wrong.

    I try to be careful not to use personal artwork, especially if it’s signed or from deviantART. The artists obviously worked hard on those images. And a lot times may be for sale, not fair use.

    I don’t use watermarked images at all. That’s tacky, and clear that you stole it.

    Gifs are the only grey area for me. I use gifs on my blog and social media. I’ve created several gifs of my own before. It’s all copyrighted material; I didn’t shoot any of the videos myself. If a studio wishes to write me to complain, I have no problem taking it down. But I don’t think they actually do because I’ve seen gifs used largely on Tumblr to spread hype about TV shows and movies. So in the end, it’s free publicity for them and they still win.

  2. I have been wary about using book cover images on my blog before. I do it occasionally (sometimes I just take a photo of the book myself) but I always wonder whether it is okay. It’s good to hear from your experience that the majority of publishers and authors support the use of cover images.

  3. I use book cover images from Goodreads for my blog, and then link the pic back to Goodreads. I wonder if this is ok? I feel like I’m in a panic now!

  4. It strikes me as bizarre that a publisher or author or whoever might have an issue with cover art being used on blogs etc. Sharing a book’s cover can only be a positive thing, right?

    Why wouldn’t it be? :s

    I get all mine from Goodreads and sometimes Amazon if I need a specific edition or something obscure.

    But if it’s a published book then it’s being let out into the public domain, no?

    It’s the best kind of advertisement for sure.

    I can understand why there might be an issue if it were being used for counterproductive ends, but otherwise, the thought of being sued for using a book cover is crazay! (the ‘ay’ is very important here)

    Interesting to think on though. 🙂

  5. In says in the copyright information in nearly every book or comic book that the cover or content may not be reporduced or recreated EXCEPT FOR THE PURPOSES OF REVIEW. I’m super paranoid about copyright infringement, but it says it right there that reviews are fair game. And it’s free publicity for them.

  6. As an author who both blogs and waits with baited breath for new reviews of her books I have to say that I created 3 out of 4 covers so far, and have no problem what so ever with someone using the image of my cover in a review. I use Amazon cover pics, with links, for the most part and have been encouraged to continue that practice.

  7. I hadn’t ever really thought about this, beyond briefly considering that it must surely be covered under “Fair Use”. Likewise I assumed that short quotes such as sentences or single verses from poems that really give a flavour of the book would also be considered fair use.

  8. I use cover images without batting an eye! As an author, I hope people will post pictures of my cover around the internet.

    I always search for the owner of the images that I use on my blog and give credit, but I never realized that even *that* could be wrong. Eeep!

  9. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with displaying a cover with one of your reviews. I’m on the staff of a state-recognized scholastic newspaper and my adviser was a journalist before he became a teacher; we use album covers and movie posters all the time. The key is to only use official images, which an be found on the author’s site, the publisher’s site, and other legitimate sources, and never claim the artwork as your own (duh!). I’m pretty sure Goodreads can be considered a legitimate source, too.
    We make a big deal on staff about never using copyrighted images outside of fair use even though I highly doubt that we’d get caught if we did. It’s simply an journalism ethics thing. Photos of celebrities displayed on multiple news platforms are fair use. Things like the Olympic rings and the Twitter/Facebook logos, however, are not. I don’t think bloggers should worry too much about using a Twitter logo off the internet, but our adviser makes us recreate every logo on Illustrator because technically we aren’t supposed to use any graphics that we didn’t create.
    When I’m stuck on a question about legal/proper procedures for online publishing, I always take a rule from newspaper. That being said, I highly doubt that companies are going to hunt down each and every blogger that used their logo on a blog.

  10. Oh.. Uh… I never… thought.. of that… I use them but as long as it’s always linked to the author or you can see the author’s name on it… I figure it can’t hurt because it’s publicity?

  11. Great post, this is something I’ve been wondering about! I’ve followed blogs that have gotten sued (and lost) for image copyright infringement, so I’m a bit paranoid about this happening to me. I only use images on my blog from a site that allows sharing, as long as image credit is given, and then I get all of my book cover images from goodreads.

    Just found your blog through a link on another blog, and I’m now following you through bloglovin 🙂

  12. I do like the idea of taking your own creative photos.

    I asked a publisher for permission once to use a textbook cover on a website, and the publisher gave me quite a hard time about it. You’d think they would have been happy with the free publicity.

  13. To celebrate the Centenary of WW1 I published a novel based on the true story (with some fiction woven in)of the implications of the war on my parent’s childhood and the story takes you to the end of WW11. My cover consists of family photographs and the main one is of my parents circa 1935 in the same shot is one gentleman walking behind them. I thought it would be a nice gesture to try and find out if the unknown gentleman caught in the shot still had family in the area so I could forward them a copy. I posted the request on our city Forum only to have a very brusque reply back asking if had I gained permission to use it? ‘As you wish to identify the people in the photograph I take it that we can assume that their photos have been used for a book cover without their consent:-
    ‘As you wish to identify the people in the photograph I take it that we can assume that their photos have been used for a book cover without their consent’
    Apart from this gentleman all the other photos are family members. Does it give me a problem?

  14. Brenda Ritter

    I am the author of a WWI novel, “The 11th Hour of the 11th Day” published on Nov. 11, 2012. I own the copyright. However, on Amazon today, I noticed another WWI novel, published on July 30, 2014 is using the cover of my novel. Is this legal? To make matters worse, they are both WWI novels. Help!

  15. Brenda Ritter

    The novel using my cover is “The Loves We Left Behind” by Margaret Tanner.

  16. So I have a question. My blog is new and I am in the process of making my own logo for it. I have this adorable idea (which came out really well I’m just scared to use it) of a wooden Letter J propped up on a couple well known books. These books range from Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes and Catcher in the Rye. I don’t want anyone suing me over using their books in my logo. Do you have any idea if this is okay or not? I personally own all the books I used…

    • Elizabeth

      If the books were old enough to be out of copyright, you wouldn’t have to worry at all.

  17. Appreciate the post, wanted to make sure. Of course as someone aspiring to be a writer, I’d be ecstatic to see a picture of my book on someone’s Instagram!

  18. MV

    Really good article, thanks Tara. I am in the process of creating my own site and reviewing and discussing books will form a major part of the content so I want to get the images right.
    One thing I would add is that to use Amazon images it looks like you need to sign up to their affiliates program so I will probably go the Goodreads route. Creating my own photos has some appeal but could be quite time consuming

  19. Good to know. I have another question and maybe you can help. I was wondering how to actually copy the sinopsis and other addition information about a book from a site such as Goodreads in blog posts? I’ve tried embedding Goodreads intro my “currently reading” blog posts so everyone can get to know the basic info of the book, but I’m not able to. I see you were able to do it. Which is why I ask.

  20. Hi, my question is (not related to education, sorry) – can I use an Amazon.com image, create my poster with all other original art and copyright the poster?

  21. […] But fair use is important in many other contexts as well. For all those amazing book review bloggers that we all rely on to discover our next great reads, fair use allows them to post images of book covers and short snippets of the books they are reviewing. There are plenty of people who have talked about whether book review blogs should quote the book, but The Author CEO sums it up quite well in her post on the topic. And The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shh actually discusses the fair use of book cover images in book review posts here. […]

  22. Jason

    I have a further question about this. Images on book covers are often licensed by the publisher from somewhere else. So a publisher might be perfectly happy for me to post an image of the book on my website – since it gives them publicity – but what about the image owner? Does the fact that they have granted a licence to the publisher mean that other people are also allowed to show pictures of the book? I should mention that my use of the image is non-commercial – I am not selling the book, merely drawing attention to it in case other people want to buy it on Amazon or somewhere.

  23. nix whittaker

    I wouldn’t worry. Using images of covers actually falls under the fair use act. Check out Hank Green talking about it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG_FCQiKUws) And the stock photos that are often used in covers well, the licence on that pretty much doesn’t matter as long as you are not making money directly from the image. Like making posters of the cover and selling them. Since anyone blogging about books is not actually making money directly from the book or the cover no one has a leg to stand on in a court case and no one would bother.

  24. Sumeet

    hi, I am making a book review android app which uses book covers. The Google play store insist that i get the permission of the every author before using their book Covers in my app.

    I dont have so much time and energy to do that. What should i do ?

  25. Maria Ciaccia

    A question – I received a bunch of mysteries (fiction) set in the 1930s and 1940s about movie stars from that era like Marlene Dietrich solving mysteries. I’m assuming because they’re public figures and deceased it’s okay. But my question is the cover art. If you do a rendering of the actor and use his/her name in the title, is it okay or do you get a license?

  26. Astrid

    Hello,
    Many thanks for this useful article. I *think* it’s answered my question… But just to be on the safe side, please could you tell me if I’ve got this right?
    I’ve taken a picture of my own bookshelves (at home), showing the spines of the books, with the titles and author names readable, and I want to use it on my website. I’m not infringing copyrights if I do this, am I?