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!)
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.