Q. I found an image online that I want to use on my book cover but I can’t find out who owns it. Isn’t everything on the Internet royalty free?
A. This is a very common misconception online. You can’t just grab an image or photo from one website and put it on another. Likewise, you can’t randomly grab an image and slap it in or on your book. Everything was created by and/or owned by somebody or some company. You can’t use somebody else’s property for profit without permission. Some websites feature graphics they don’t even own (that they took from other websites or other sources), and boldly claim the graphics are free for the taking. If you believe them and use an image for profit, the false claims of your image source won’t be a legitimate excuse if or when the actual owner sues you for copyright infringement.
This is BookLocker‘s statement concerning publication of images:
BookLocker does not allow the use of graphics randomly found online because there is no proof of who the copyright holder is. Written permission must be obtained from the copyright holder of each graphic unless the graphic is purchased from a reputable stock graphics/photo firm, like istockphoto.com.
Just like authors don’t want people republishing text from their book for profit without permission, authors can’t use an artist’s image for profit without permission.