“I found a fantastic erotic photo of a model for my book cover…but my publisher won’t let me use it. What can I do?”

“I found a fantastic erotic photo of a model for my book cover…but my publisher won’t let me use it. What can I do?”

Q –

Hi Angela,

I hope you can help me. I spent a year writing a pretty graphic erotic novel. I always envisioned a cover photo of a woman with red lipstick and a black hat casting a shadow over her eyes. I found a photo just like that on a stock agency website. However, my publisher won’t let me use it. He said it violates the stock photo agency’s guidelines for use. What can I do?


A –

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for your specific legal questions. Every author’s book and situation is unique.

Your question is one I’ve seen many times before. By the time many authors are finished writing their book, they have a good idea of how they want the cover to look. And, with millions of photos for sale online, an author can find almost anything they’re looking for.

The problem is many models don’t want their face associated with erotica, or anything else that some may find offensive.

Imagine purchasing a stock photo online of a pretty girl in overalls sitting on a tractor for your book, Sexy Farm Girls Gone Wild. Now, imagine the letter you’ll receive later from a law firm telling you the model is a nice, church-going conservative girl from the south who would never associate herself with such a book. That lawsuit could bankrupt you.

Imagine a cover designer looking for a photo of a 20-something girl for a non-fiction book about prostitution. And, only after the lawsuit threat arrives does the author discover the model was actually 16 at the time the photo was taken.

Now, imagine there is an innocent photo of your face for sale on a stock photo agency website and you later find your photo on the glossy cover of a book about the STD epidemic in America, U.S.-based Nazis, dog fighting, or any other controversial or disturbing topic. Of course, most people are going to believe you are one of the people portrayed in the book. You’d be calling your lawyer right away, too!

Stock photos agencies have contract clauses in place that prevent real models’ faces from being used on anything that might portray that model in a negative light.

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Don’t use the model’s face on your book cover.
2. Fuzz out the face and any other identifying characteristics so that even the model won’t recognize him or herself. One author I know removed identifying tattoos from a model on the cover of his erotic novel, and changed the color of her clothing.
3. Hire a model who will sign an iron-clad contract permitting his or her face to be used on your book.
4. Purchase artwork for your cover instead of a photograph.


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