Want to Get Sued by a Model? Put His/Her Stock Photo on the Cover of Your Controversial Book!

Want to Get Sued by a Model? Put His/Her Stock Photo on the Cover of Your Controversial Book!


At BookLocker.com, we recently rejected the cover design of a book that featured photos of two children on the front. The photos were legally purchased from a stock photo agency. However, the topic of the book was, shall we say, of an embarrassing nature. All I can tell you is that it dealt with medical topics that NO child would want their photo associated with!

Think about it. Johnny and Jane are in school one day and a fellow student shows up, holding a book on an embarrassing medical topic. And, there are Johnny and Jane, featured right there in full color, on the cover. Of course, the depiction makes it appear that Johnny and Jane have that medical condition. They are teased and bullied and their parents, of course, sue the author of the book for damaging their children.

You’d think most people have common sense and you’d think most people would know better. Unfortunately, some people just don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Had they put themselves in the shoes of the potential victims, they could have figured it out really fast. But, they didn’t. Luckily, I did! When I saw the cover and the title, everyone here in the “home office” heard me loudly say, “NOOOOOO WAY!!!”

Example of how a legally shot photo can end up illegally used on a product or online –

What if your child was a model and the photographer sold their photos to a reputable stock photo agency? And, what if someone then purchased your child’s photo and put that photo, in full color, showing your child’s very recognizable face, on the cover of a book about victims of sex offenders, or child drug addicts, or children in jail, or the spread of venereal disease in youth populations. See where I’m going with this? Even a novel with an embarrassing story line could humiliate your child.

One day, your dad flies in for a visit and you take him to the beach. There are people with cameras everywhere. You both ignore them, and spend the afternoon catching up while working on your tans. A few months later, a friend calls to say she saw a book for sale online and YOUR bikini photo is on the cover, with your dad by your side. It’s an erotic romance novel…about a woman who’s cheating on her husband.

You’re at the pool with your kids and you notice a weird guy with a big camera lens taking pictures of the children there. Your creep meter goes off and you quickly bundle your children up an head for the car, after reporting him to the lifeguard, of course. Later, the nut-case gets a visit from the police after he posts suggestive swimming photos of neighborhood children online.

These are just a few examples of how someone can legally take/obtain a photograph of an individual. But, it’s how the photo is later used that can get the user into trouble.


If someone purchases a photo from a reputable stock agency, they are NOT permitted to use that photo in any way they choose.

Per the dreamstime.com contract :

“…you agree not to use Media with sensitive topics without Dreamstime‘s separate written agreement. Such sensitive topics include, but are not limited to: models with mental or physical health issues, social issues, sexual activity, sexual orientation or related, substance abuse, crime or other subjects that can be considered to be offensive or unflattering to any of the models included in the image.”

Per the Shutterstock contract license :

“YOU MAY NOT portray any person depicted in Visual Content (a “Model”) in a way that a reasonable person would find offensive, including but not limited to depicting a Model: a) in connection with pornography, ‘adult videos’, adult entertainment venues, escort services, dating services, or the like; b) in connection with the advertisement or promotion of tobacco products; c) in a political context, such as the promotion, advertisement or endorsement of any party, candidate, or elected official, or in connection with any political policy or viewpoint; d) as suffering from, or medicating for, a physical or mental ailment; or e) engaging in immoral or criminal activities.”

Most other stock photo agencies have similar limitations.

There are plenty of examples of lawsuits that have been filed by folks who were featured in or on books, or by the media, without their consent. Celebrities sue over their likeness being used in ads all the time. But, normal folks can sue, too.

* A teenager whose bathing suit photo was used in a school presentation filed a $2M lawsuit against the school. Her lawsuit claimed that the use of the photo suggested she was “promiscuous or an alcoholic.”

* An author was sued after using a couple’s photo on the cover of an erotic book.

* A model sued Shutterstock and 35 other companies, including the original photographer, after her photo, which was sold to stock photo agencies, was used on erotic book covers (i.e. “Horny Housewives of Dubai”) and elsewhere. In the photo on the book above, she’s wearing skimpy lingerie and is in a very suggestive position…but that didn’t mean she still wasn’t entitled to sue.

Read how that case ended up here: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4354475/forni-v-resnick/

So, before you use a photo of a real person in or on your book, check your bank account. Do you have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars that may be necessary if you get sued? More importantly, do you really want to risk harming someone in this way? Put yourself in their shoes. If you wouldn’t put your own face (or that of your child) on a book of that nature, don’t put someone else’s face on it, either.


Well, Excuuuuuse Me for Trying to Protect You From a Lawsuit!

Don’t Invite Lawsuits by Real People Featured in Your Book! (Hint: You Can Still Be Sued Even If You Don’t Name Them!)

Featuring Real People in Your Writing? Protect Yourself From Lawsuits!

Boldly Assuming You “Can’t Be Sued” Will Likely Lead to a Lawsuit

Somebody Stole My Photos…And They Ended Up In A Book!

Does That Website Really Own The Photo They Just Gave Me Permission To Use? Not Likely!

Can I Use A Picture I Found Online?

12 Ways to Avoid Getting Sued When Writing Your Memoirs

MORE from Angela’s Desk

Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela Hoy.

About The Author


Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the author of 19 books, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).

Angela has lived and traveled across the U.S. with her kids in an RV, settled in a river-side home in Bradenton, FL, and lived on a 52 ft Irwin sailboat. Angela now resides on a mountaintop in Northwest Georgia, where she plans to spend the rest of her days bird watching, gardening, hiking, and taking in all of the amazing sunrises.

WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.

BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."

Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.

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3 Responses to "Want to Get Sued by a Model? Put His/Her Stock Photo on the Cover of Your Controversial Book!"

  1. pamelaallegretto  December 22, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Excellent and informative article. Clearly, it demonstrates not only your publishing savvy, but also your high moral code. Thank you!

  2. Michael W. Perry  December 21, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    I can offer a suggestion for those dealing with the first problem above: covers or interior pictures for books about sick children. You should be safe if you use a stock photo in which a child’s particular sickness is one reason the picture was supplied and thus part of its message.

    A book I wrote, My Nights with Leukemia, features a young girl who did have cancer. The front cover was taken just before her diagnosis and the back cover was taken afterward, when chemotherapy had resulted in the loss of most of her hair. There are numerous stock photos of her when she was being treated and she was so brave and obviously loved by her parents, that I just had to use her pictures. Together, they let me make an important point. Newly diagnosed children with cancer often do not look sick. It was our treatment that make them look like the survivors of some horrible concentration camp. That, I tell readers, is what we as staff had to be willing to do. It wasn’t easy.

    You can see both those pictures here:


    Stock photo companies have numerous pictures of children in hospitals, typically with no disease specified. Most look so bright-eyed and chipper, I doubt they’re actually sick. But you’re not misrepresenting them to use their picture to represent a child sick with an ordinary illness. The danger comes when you portray a healthy child on a playground as if they had some dread disease. As Angelia points out, don’t do that.

    One way to avoid trouble is to search a stock photo service by key words. Look for “hospital child” or “hospital child cancer” and you what comes up will be intended to represent what you’re portraying.

    Also, in most cases, if your book is about people portrayed positively or negatively, make the cover represent someone who is positive. My Senior Nurse Mentor includes some nasty hospital officials, but the front cover is clearly intended to represent the kind of nurse who might become a senior nurse mentor, a mature and very capable-looking woman. And the back cover shows a much younger nurse who seems a bit shy. She’s intended to represent a new nurse needing a mentor. That’s here:


    You may be catching on that I do my best to have the front and back represent to different aspects of a common theme.

    Another of my hospital books, Embarrass Less, frustrated me immensely. Written for hospital staff, I spent hours looking for a picture included a cross-selection of hospital staff that didn’t look dry as dust. (Nothing kills a picture’s magic like the presence of a middle-age doctor. They are so dull.) Finally, it came to me that rather than represent the book’s target audience, I should have the cover show the only ones who don’t find medical care embarrassing. You can see who that is here:


    Cute aren’t they? Notice that I managed to work them into my description of the book.
    I’ll add one extremely important piece of advice. Do NOT put off choosing a title or cover image for your book until it is done. When I began a book in Scrivener, the first entry I make is a section called “Title.” There I list ideas for the title and subtitle. I want the title to be short and catchy. I want the subtitle to describe the book well. (If it is part of series, you might use something like, “Book 3 in the Lone Cowboy Series” to make sure readers know where they are in the series.) I keep thinking about that title and subtitle, adding new possiblilties as I go along. My decision won’t be final until the book is ready for release.

    I might add that at times all that thinking can hit it lucky. There are many ways to title a book about reducing patient embarrassment in a hospital setting. For instance, I could have called it “Less Embarrassing Care.” That would have sounded like a textbook. Instead, I choose Embarrass Less not only because it was brief, but because it did not sound like a textbook. Indeed, the expression is unique enough, that my book, out only a few months, is now the top hit on Google when someone searches for its title. You can’t buy visibility like that for thousands of dollars. I got it by putting care into selecting the title.

    Those title possibilities, in turn, begin to suggest ideas for the cover. From the start, I knew I wanted My Nights with Leukemia to show a child with cancer and Senior Nurse Mentor to show a talented nurse. That only required searching stock photos for just the right one. But it was only because I spent weeks not finding a picture I liked for Embarrass Less that led me to that flash of inspiration. If I waited until the last to think about the cover, I would have probably done something stupid.

    Again, I stress that the title and cover image are so important you should not put them off to last. Think about both constantly as you write and you’ll be much happier with the result. (Ask friends for advice too.) There are few things more frustrating than releasing a book that represent months of your labor only to become unhappy with the title or cover.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Auburn, AL

  3. Peter garland  December 21, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Hi, Angela, thanks for another edition of your #1 Newsletter. I’ve already sent a query to Dutch Magazine as a result of said newsletter. Thanks for publishing my letter, too. I look forward to perusing the rest of Writer’s Weekly.

    Happy Holidays and a Great 2017!

    Peter Garland