I often see discussions from first timer authors in online forums or Facebook groups talking about book cover design. Some post about how easy and convenient it was to use stock photos for their book covers. Others think royalty free means copyright free. Some even think they can just Google the type of photo they’re looking for and download it for free.
The problem with royalty free stock photos
Stock photos are easy to find and relatively cheap. I frequently use them on my blogs because I don’t always have the time to go out and shoot my own photos. However, royalty free doesn’t mean the photo is free. You pay a one time licencing fee, and the fee may vary, depending on how the photo will be used.
The problem with stock photos is that you don’t buy exclusive rights. Other people can and do use the same photo you’re using, and this could include other authors using the same photo for their book covers. Imagine going to a book festival and seeing another author signing a book with the same cover photo you’re using. Yikes!
If it’s on the Internet it doesn’t mean it’s public domain.
There are people out there who honestly believe that publishing a photo online automatically makes it public domain. Therefore, they can download it for free and use it as they wish. WRONG! While I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice, it’s common knowledge that the rights to the photo belong to the person who took the photo. Therefore, if you use someone else’s photo without their permission, you could, potentially, find yourself in serious trouble. And who needs that kind of the grief? So, when in doubt, find out who the photographer is, and get their permission to use the photo.
My best advice would be to take the photo yourself if you possibly can. However, if you don’t have the skills to do so, or if the photo needs to be taken at a distant location, consider hiring a photographer to shoot the photo for you. If budget is an issue then ask around. Many of us have friends or family members who are into photography and who would be honored if you were use one of their photos for your book cover. Most colleges and universities offer photography classes, and students will oftentimes jump at the chance to do a paying assignment. Use a stock photo only as a last resort.
And one final note. Whether you are using a friend’s photo, or hire a professional photographer, be sure to have the photographer sign a release form granting you permission to use their photo, even if they’re letting you use their photo for free. Stuff happens, and you can find release form templates online.
The book cover I’ve included is one I designed for another author. I’m a photographer as well as an author, but none of the photos in my library were what I was looking for, so I asked a photographer friend. He had the perfect photo in his library.