Monday, January 13, 2014

Stock Art For Indie Writers

By DeAnna Knippling

A moment of your time, please.

Imagine, if you will, that you woke up one morning and found out that your book was on a pirate website, being used as part of a marketing campaign to sell...laundry soap. Or porn. Or the all-singing, all-dancing version of your book. 

OMG! You’ve been ripped off!

You painstakingly track the offender down. 

The offender is shocked at your outrage. Shocked! Because they bought a copy of your book off Amazon. Bought it! Fair and square!

And therefore could do with your book whatever they wanted.

You reissue your demands that this thief take down their pirated books, cease and desist using your book in their marketing campaign, put some clothes on, and stop with the moonlit serenades.

Just because someone bought a copy of your book doesn’t mean they get...copyright. Sheesh!


This horrific scenario could happen to you.

Chilling, no?  We must ever be on constant vigilance against the ignoramuses of the world, those Philistines, who have no idea what the difference between buying a copy of a story and copyright are...

But wait!

It’s time to publish your new indie book. 

You’re working on the cheap, because it’s not like you’re making a ton of money off your work, so you don’t get custom art made. Too much money! Either the artist is good and knows what book covers look like (and are too expensive to afford), or they have no clue what to do when it comes to covers.

So you go to a stock art site, and buy some art.

And use it on your book cover. It looks great! (If you do say so yourself.)

Then, suddenly, out of the blue...someone contacts you. Screaming at you for violating their copyright. For your book cover.

“But wait,” you say, “I bought that art!”


The thing was, though, you didn’t. You licensed the art for a limited and specific purpose, and the license likely came with strings attached.

I blame the Internet, really. That thing where everything you do has these massive EULA agreements that you can’t do anything about where they hold your software hostage have. It's trained us to skip reading our agreements. And mostly that’s okay. You’d have to be a thousand years old in order to actually read all the way through every EULA you signed, and there’s a good chance that a lot of them won’t hold up in court after they’re tested.

But licensing copyrighted work for reuse is different. That has been tested, many times.

Now, I’m no lawyer and please don’t take what I say as legal advice.

But it might just be in your best interests to read the license agreements you use on your indie books.

The licenses may say things like: “You can only distribute X many copies of the book before you need to start paying royalties.” “You cannot use this image on t-shirts.” “You have no guarantee that someone else won't use this image on their book Stephen King. Too bad, sucker!”

And they probably also say, “YOU MUST GIVE CREDIT FOR THIS IMAGE.”

You will never, ever get copyright for a work of art unless it is specifically assigned to you. You will only get a license to use the image...and then only in a limited, strictly defined way. 

Don’t be the jerk who stole someone’s copyright. Or else I’ll point and laugh when it happens to you, because karma.


  • Read your license agreement at each site you use. Check that when you buy an image, you understand the agreement for that image.
  •  Always give copyright credit for the image. This includes your author photo. Even if your spouse took it: give copyright credit.
  • Never use a font that you don’t have a license to use. Fonts are copyrighted. If you download a font that is supposedly free, check the info file attached to the font to make sure.
  • A lot of fonts are free for personal use. Ebooks are not personal use. They are commercial use.  Make sure you have permission.
  • Save your licenses in the folders where you have the images/fonts/etc., in case the website you got it from goes down or goes away...and someone tries to sue you.


Remember: You do not get a “get out of jail free” card just because you’re a cute little indie writer/publisher/DIYer. You’re a businessperson, and you can get sued for ripping other people off, whether it was intentional or not.  

Cover your bum - and be scrupulous about copyright.

About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit. 

1 comment:

  1. I read your post very carefully and thank you for sharing! Those agreements always make me a bit nervous as the devil is always in the details.


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