IP: Cover Art Licenses
As you all know, Indie authors wear a lot of hats. I have a few extra, because I’m an author and an artist. So this post is going to be me switching hats, and talking about cover art, from both sides of the page.
It all started because I was stupid. Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s expected of me. Really, though, it was more that I was inexperienced and so tickled with the thought of someone wanting my cover art that I didn’t take the time to lay out a contract with a friend. So. First lesson: good contracts make good relationships. I know this – I knew this before I started doing covers, so the only way I can explain not doing it with this particular transaction was stupidity. Now, I did at least specify in the invoices later what was being paid for, which saved my bacon.
Fast forward several years. The entity I had been selling cover art licenses to folded up shop. What happens to my covers? Well, the rights revert to the artist at that point. Which is something that the authors in the audience need to pay attention to: if you have a book with a publisher, and for some reason that book is no longer with the publisher, you do not ‘own’ that cover. The publisher does. The contract is between the artist and the person who paid them. Even if the publisher says ‘sure, go ahead and use that cover I got for you, on the house…’ do not. Contact the artist, confirm, and preferably re-license the cover art so you can use it in good conscience and without the specter of an artist coming after your work with a copyright take down. You don’t want to hassle with that, and as an artist, neither do I.
Small points, tangential to the conversation about IP: crediting the artist and listing the book on Amazon. A cover artist will usually ask (I do, when I use a formal contract) to be credited in the frontsmatter of the book. They do not need to be listed on Amazon or other sales outlets as ‘Illustrator’ unless they have actually done interior illustrations for your book. If they ask for that, take a step back and contemplate why, and if you want to work with that, because it’s not correct. I’m listed as Illustrator on a few books, and I didn’t ask for it, and have actually asked to be removed from that role.
As an artist, I expect to send the cover art with text layout – in other words, a whole cover design – to whomever paid me for it. I usually do not license the art itself, although you can certainly negotiate for that. James Young sells art at conventions that he licensed from his cover artist and it makes a nice sum for him, but he paid his artist up front for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an artist who doesn’t do shows to sell prints, this could be a win-win situation. In any and all cases, the artist’s name should be connected to the art. Not only to credit them for their work, but to enable others to find them and buy work from them. Word of mouth is king in the world of marketing and sales, and if you disconnect the artist’s name from their work, you cut that vital flow of information, and thereby monies, off from the artist. I have known of authors who bragged that they never told anyone who their cover artist was, because they wanted the artist to stay cheap and available when they needed another cover. Frankly, this is despicable and I hope our readers can see why starving their artist is a horrible idea.
As an author, if I license – and you will note I’m using the term license here rather than purchase – a cover artwork and design, I will usually look for an open license where there are no restrictions on how many times I can sell covers. In other words, if I am putting this cover on an ebook, I don’t want to have to go back and buy another license when I’m going to pass the magic number of, say, 10,000 copies sold. I want to slap it on there and forget about it, so to speak. However, I’m not going to expect to be able to use that same cover art with new text on it for, say, a foreign edition, or a omnibus, or whatever, unless I go back to the artist and pay a little extra for modifications to the file. I don’t own the art. Yes, some artists will sell you the whole package. But don’t expect it, and be explicit with your expectations, as they should be explicit with what you are getting for your money and any limitations on their intellectual property.
Because in the end, that’s what it is. The book cover art is the creation of the artist, and in my humble opinion, it’s just as important as what’s in the book. No author wants to be pirated, so don’t pirate art, either. If you treat an artist’s work like it’s worth less, what does that say about your writing? They are both art! And they are both created in the mind, hence the intellectual part. Treat your cover art and artists with respect. A good cover can make or break a book.
(Header image: “Reactors” by Cedar Sanderson)