What Indie Authors NEED to know about Image Licensing

As an Indie author, you may only think that you need to concern yourself with potential copyright infringement within your books. I am a member of many author groups, and I see discussions every day regarding this. Can I use a real company name in my books? Can I refer to a popular television personality? 

What most don’t know, is that you also need to educate yourself about the images on your covers as well. While professional cover designers should be familiar with the details of image licensing, there are a few high-level guidelines authors should know as well.

The Basics:

While you need to be careful about using the names of companies within the text of your book, it’s completely against copyright law to use any recognizable logos on your cover without permission. The same goes for framed artwork, celebrity likenesses, tattoo art, and architecture. ALL of these things need special licensing/release forms which at times can come with a hefty price tag.


There are a few different licensing categories (personal, editorial, standard, extended, commercial etc.). However, for the purposes of this article, we are going to highlight the two that pertain to book covers.


Many cover designers purchase stock images from websites that vet images, and collect releases for the images. These images typically fall under a standard license. Standard release terms can vary from site to site, they generally cover the use of the image for an e-book cover, and a print cover up to a certain amount of copies. Typically, the number of printed copies allowed is very generous, (upwards of 250,000). If your book becomes a bestseller, you might want to check back in with your cover designer for information about purchasing extended licenses.


Extended license can be trickier as it varies from site to site. Designers are the ones who really should know the exact licensing terms for the images they use. However, authors should at least familiarize yourself with the concept because your ability to create promotional items for your books may be affected. 

Again, this varies from site to site, but if you use your cover to make promotional items (free or resale) such as pins, mugs, keychains, t-shirts, hats, (anything on zazzle.com) you need an extended license for each image used.

Paper products like business cards and bookmarks generally fall under standard license, but again, it varies by site and instance. For example, bookmarks that feature the book cover only fall under extended. However, if you add your contact information, website or social media pages to the back of the bookmark, it’s covered under standard. A good rule of thumb: Does the imagery enhance the product, like a mug or t-shirt, (requires extended license), or is it packaging or purely informational? Book covers are considered packaging for the book, business cards are considered informational. Bookmarks are a bit of a gray area. Some consider them “odd-sized business cards” so long as they contain all the information a business card does. 

When in doubt, check with your cover designer. Pricing for extended license varies. Purchasing an extended license can run you $75-$300 per image.

What can I do to protect myself?

As stated previously, it is up to the designer to do the legwork before they use the images on covers they sell.  First and foremost, it’s important to hire a reputable and knowledgeable designer. Many newer designers, or discount designers might not know the licensing terms of the images and fonts they are using. Before you hire someone, or purchase a pre-made cover, you can absolutely ask them where they source their images from. If the cover features a model, it’s best to know that a release form is signed and provided by the stock site. Also, while it’s not bullet proof, crediting your designer on the copyright page of your book offers you a layer of protection, (and it is often a requirement in many designer’s TOS agreements). 

Helpful Links:

Known Image Restrictions:



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