Cover Art And Copyright Law: What Self-Published Writers Need To Know | Self-Publishing Relief

by | Other Helpful Information, Self-Publishing | 3 comments

Whether a book is self-published or traditionally published, the cover art is considered a separate piece of intellectual property from the book itself. But because self-publishing gives an author more options and responsibilities when creating a cover design, dealing with the laws governing image copyrights can be a little trickier. Self-Publishing Relief is here to help you understand what you need to know about cover art and copyright law.

Important Caveat: This article is for information only. We’re not lawyers. Consult an attorney regarding any of your particular legal questions and concerns.

Self-Published Writers: Dealing With Cover Art And Copyright Issues

Create the cover yourself.

If you have the talent and tools to design a professional-quality cover for your self-published book, and you use only elements (images, layout, fonts) that you own outright, you hold all the copyrights to that cover. This means you can reproduce it and distribute it at will. And it gives you the most legal freedom with respect to your cover art. But before you exercise that freedom—make sure that you do actually own all the assets used in the design.

Keep in mind that if you’ve purchased stock artwork to incorporate into your self-made cover design, your rights will be affected. Most stock image companies only license the image to you, so make sure you understand the agreement thoroughly.

Use an online graphic design service such as Snappa, Canva, or Lucidpress. 

By using an online graphic design service, you can create your cover from their predesigned layouts, fonts, and stock image options. There are also contractual limitations to this cover design alternative; the service retains ownership of the cover design and licenses its use to you. Read the contract carefully to make sure you understand how you can and cannot use that design for merchandising, promotion, and distribution.

Hire an independent cover artist. 

If your budget allows it, hiring a professional artist is a great way to get a top-notch cover for your self-published book. But just because you’re commissioning someone to design your cover does not mean that you own all the rights to the finished product. If the artist has used his or her own assets in the creation of the design, he or she can transfer the copyright to you but must do so in writing. If the design contains stock imagery or assets licensed from others, your rights will be limited by a licensing agreement.

There are many considerations involved in getting the cover design right, but it’s important to your book’s success that you do just that. Layout, font choice, and imagery should not only be eye-catching, but also take seriously such concerns as reader expectations and genre. Your budget will often dictate which of the above design options you choose, but knowing where you stand from a copyright standpoint should always play a part in your decision.


Question: Have you self-published a book? Which cover design strategy did you use?


  1. julia

    I am very concerned and wonder if anyone can advise. For a price, through an intermediary, I posted several novels on Amazon marketplace with self-designed covers. I have now withdrawn the books from sale on Amazon but they seem unable/reluctant to take down the covers. I want these covers withdrawn from view and have no idea what I should do to enforce this request.

    • Blog Editor

      Hi Julia,
      Unfortunately, even after you have unpublished your book, there are still copies out there potentially for sale by third parties. If you haven’t already contacted Amazon about this matter, we recommend you do.

  2. margaret taylor

    I hired a professional romance illustrator and paid him for a
    great cover of my self-published, contemporary romance-suspence


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