“My cover designer refuses to use a photo I provided. Something about liability. But, I bought it and I want it on my book’s cover!”

“My cover designer refuses to use a photo I provided. Something about liability. But, I bought it and I want it on my book’s cover!”

Q –

“I wrote a book about the abuse I endured as a child. I purchased the rights to use a photo from a stock photo agency. It’s a crying little girl who looks somewhat similar to me as a child. That photo will be very powerful on my book’s cover. But, my cover designer refuses to use it because my book is about abuse. Can she refuse to use a photo I legally bought for a cover I already paid him to design?”


A –

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. You will need to consult with your own attorney on specific legal questions you have.

That said…

First, kudos to you for hiring a cover designer who watches out for authors (and for himself) in this manner. Anyone buying your book might assume that the little girl on the cover was the abuse victim. And, if anyone recognizes that little girl, it can harm her reputation. You can’t use any photo you want, for any reason, just because you paid for it.

All of the reputable stock photo agencies have clauses in their contracts designed to protect models from libel, defamation, invasion of privacy, or any harm to their reputations at all. Authors, cover designers, and publishers must be very wary about printing a book with an actual person’s face on the cover.

Think about it. What if you let a photographer take your picture, signed a photo release, and then found your face on the cover of a book about a rape victim? Or, about a girl who was molested? Or, about a woman who committed murder?

Your designer was right to reject the photo. He could have also been held liable had the book gone to market, and had the girl’s parents sued.

Do unto others as you would have them to unto you. Think before you publish. Don’t assume that, just because you paid for something, you can do whatever you want with it. That’s what lawsuits in this industry are made of – authors, publishers, and designers not knowing the laws, not reading contracts, and making assumptions about their own rights. You’re very lucky. Your designer may have not only saved you from a lawsuit, but, more importantly, may have saved that little girl from humiliation and damage to her reputation in the future.


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