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Reusing stock art; what do authors think?

3238 Views 69 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  Carradee
I'm interested in author feedback. I'm a professional graphic designer and design book covers. I use and manipulate stock art for a unique end product.

A few months ago I used a specific piece of stock art in a cover; in this case, two models in an embrace, the most significant and eye catching piece of art; the centerpiece of the cover. I now have a second author who is bent on using that same piece of stock art. I tried to interest her to another pose by the same models, but she does not like it as much. She wants THAT one. I don't blame her; she's found something she likes and wants to use it.

I feel I can't do it, that it would be too much like a copy of the first cover I did, even with a different background and different typography. It IS a commercial piece of art, so certainly the first author might expect to find it elsewhere, but I don't think **I** should use it again; that if I do so, I will be dishonoring my agreement with the first author.

I've offered to refund the second author's deposit. I feel bad about it, because this is the second in a series and I already designed the first book; but I just don't think it's ethically right. But I thought I would come here and ask what other authors felt. How would you feel if you had contracted with an author for a cover that while it used stock art, was to be unique to you, then saw the same models, in the same pose, on a second cover by that same artist?

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I agree with your concern.  The world at large won't necessarily know that you were asked to use the same stock art - it will seem to anyone who notices the similarity that you were just being uncreative.

Now technically if the author did not purchase the exclusive rights to a picture, there is nothing he/she can object about.
However, I think you are doing the right thing since I would feel very betrayed if the artist who did my cover used the same picture for someone else's book.
I guess I could contact the first author and ask, but that feels a little awkward as well; it kind of puts her on the spot; I would not want a grudging acceptance.
I also do cover design work here and there, and I've run into the same issue: authors really wanting X cover, but with their title and name on it.  :)  Sometimes they don't seem to understand that a big part of what makes a good book cover so effective is its unique nature!  

In those cases, I always try to offer them options of similar images and I show them ways we can work out a design that has the same feel or tone as the design they love, but in a unique way that sets their work apart and also protects the unique nature of the cover that inspired them, too.  Sometimes you can't find a new stock image that works, and then I'm okay with using the same stock image, but I use it in a very different way -- tight-cropped, or not cropped, depending on how the first one was used; color changes; dramatically different use of other design elements in the layout.  

In the end, a stock photo is a stock photo, and unless you shot it yourself or bought exclusive rights to it, any other designer may use the same photo.  For the integrity of the work I do, I always try to steer authors away from re-using something I've already used wherever possible, but a good designer should be able to get several different, truly unique-looking covers out of any given stock image.
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DD Graphix said:
I guess I could contact the first author and ask, but that feels a little awkward as well; it kind of puts her on the spot; I would not want a grudging acceptance.
Oh, I wouldn't do that. What an impossible position for her to be in. Who would want to say "go ahead" under these circumstances? She has no right to say no, but... Blurgh. I would stick to your original plan and politely refund second author. It's within your rights as the artist to go ahead and use the art again, but it won't win many friends.
I would usually agree but in this case the shot is already tight focus and making it too much tighter would then have the effect of ruining the visual cohesivness with the first book in the series. Certainly I can do different lighting and there will be other different elements; but it would be pretty unmistakably the same pose.
Of course, as an author you can't ensure that no one else has the same image, however, if someone found the image for my cover through my artist's portfolio, and my artist agreed to essentially harm my business by diminishing the uniqueness of the unique cover I hired them for, I would definitely feel betrayed.  I would have to hire a new cover artist, I would probably tell others about the experience.  That is just my visceral, gut reaction. I haven't even published yet and I feel emotional about my covers.
Then again, I found my stock images for my cover artist, and she edited and put typography on them and wanted to use them in her portfolio, so if someone else wanted to use them, I'd have a hard time not feeling that allowing her to put it in her portfolio led to them using the same image.  Maybe it's something authors should talk about more explicitly with their cover artist, because I know me personally, I'd really hate this.  It's one thing if they find the image on their own, but when they found it on my cover and want my cover artist to do the same for them? BOO.  Boo hiss.
I do think that you can make an image look very different, but if the image is the centerpiece to the cover, and the next author wants the same, it's going to look the same.  
I think you are doing the right thing, and I'm sorry you're losing a deposit for it.  It stinks.  I don't know what that author is thinking.
Then again, this post gave me the idea that I should probably contact my artist and make sure we are on the same page, because she is the loveliest person in the whole wide world and an incredible artist (Chri at skysweptart).
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Hmm, that IS a pickle.  I think your instincts are correct:  2nd author is free to use the stock art on her cover, but you don't feel right being the one to do it, as you used that same art for another author.  If you can't talk 2nd Author out of using that particular piece, I would do what you've done, and decline the commission.  It's a crappy situation, but I think that's the high road, especially since it's only been a few months since you did the first book.  Alternatively, as you mention, you could shoot a message to Author 1 about this, but if so, I would not word it as "asking" her; you have every right to do both jobs if you choose.  Instead, if you do decide to take the job, you could just drop a line and mention the new cover to Author 1, but I would make it an "FYI" only thing.
Did you explain to the second author that the stock photo is already in use as a book cover? If so and the author STILL wants it, in a sea of endless stock cover art, I think that might be a problem from a client-freelancer relationship standpoint that would give me pause.

If you feel good, that's all that matters. It's business. Sometimes refunds happen. And what is second author going to do, run around and tell the Internets that you were a bad designer because you wouldn't copy the stock art of a cover you had already made?

I think it's probably okay to walk away.
Robin Hart, she's thinking she fell in love with a specific pose and specific models and she wants to use them. I don't blame her a bit; but I feel like I can't do it. If we can't find another shot for her, she's going to have to go elsewhere.

I have the right to post all of my completed covers in my portfolio. The intent is to show the range and quality of my work but they are not for sale.

This is the input I expected and I'm glad to know I was not incorrect in my thinking on the subject. She's a great author, this would be our third cover together with more to come, but I just don't think I can use this shot. So she will have to find a different pose or go elsewhere; not a great option for either of us and I do really sympathize with her.
You are 1000000% within your rights to reuse stock photos if the author hasn't bought the exclusivity.

That said, if I kept seeing covers by the same designer that all looked the same or used the same photos OR the designer used the key elements of a design he'd just done for me on someone elses cover --- I wouldn't be angry (see first sentence) but I wouldn't use him again. It would seem too risky.

Geez, I keep hitting post and flipping away to come back to the "someone else has posted" warning - One more try!
If it is stock art, it can be reused. I noticed you have a cover using Jimmy Thomas in your siggy. He is now the most popular male cover artist with more out than Fabio. He's used on something like 27? covers a day? Yes, of course it would be fine to repurpose the photo.

For instance the image on the original Twilight cover is an iStock of a popular image that was used several places before that cover.

The male model on my angel series, is also on a Vampire Diaries book, but they used half his face, where as mine is 3/4.
Did the second author get the cover idea from your portfolio or did she find the stock herself and bring it to you? I have to be completely honest, I would be pretty upset if I did the latter and had my idea refused... but then again I am a cover zealot, always insisting on picking my own pictures.
What Caitie said. If it's stock, it can be reused, either by your or by any other cover artist.

As an author, if I don't by exclusive rights to a photo (notice I said photo, not cover -- I do expect to buy exclusive use of a particular cover design), then I expect it can be used elsewhere. I try to avoid some of that problem by picking photos that have never been downloaded before (although obviously they can be downloading after used by me) and writing in genres where it's less likely others will pick the same photo, but it happens.

Gwen Hayes and Alethea Kontis both have the identical photo on their YA covers. Not indie -- Gwen's book is published by NAL and Alethea's by Harcourt.

And there's a particular clinch pose I keep seeing pop up on a number of Regency covers. Beverly Kendall's is perhaps the most well-known book with that photo on it, but it's also on Lisa Follett and at least one other that I can't think of right now.

And like Lisa said, just look at Jimmy Thomas. He is on THOUSANDS of covers.
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@DDgraphics, I can see a bit more of where she's coming from then, but I still think it's odd to want the same image, and I think it's odd that she'd rather give up working with the cover artist who's work she obviously loves just because he's trying to be fair to another author.
I never said you didn't have the right to your portfolio, I am saying that as an author who sources my own images and tries hard to find ones I haven't seen used, it makes me think twice about going to an artist if I have no right to say no to them posting it on their site and exposing more people to it, particularly if I haven't released the book yet.  I think I'd be less sticky if it was a photo my artist found, and she did find a few good ones.  But it's also something to think about as far as buying exclusive rights in the future.

My hope is that the portfolio work sells people on my cover artist's skill as an artist, not on my specific image and cover.

You are within your rights to take the work and I think it's extremely admirable that you are being loyal to the customer who has already paid to work with you twice.  Makes you one of the people who sticks in my mind as having good ethics and a bit of kindness as well, in case someone wants a recommendation for multiple cover artist options.  I also think it was good of you to come ask authors what they think.  
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I defintiely agree it's odd she'd intentionally ask for a cover that uses the same image as another cover. It might be one thing for it to happen accidentally (I'm sure those covers I cited weren't intentional copies of each other), but entirely another thing to insist on copying.

Dan C. Rinnert said:
Since the stock art is available for anyone to use, if this author goes to a different cover designer and picks that same picture, do you think it will differ significantly from the cover you did for the first author with that stock art? Or, if you were to do the cover with that same stock art, would you be better able to differentiate it from the first, which would be beneficial to both authors?

To put it another way, if someone else does this cover, you have absolutely no control over how it comes out and how close it will be to the first cover you did, whereas if you do the second cover, you have full control. Which situation would be best for both of the authors and yourself?
We authors are aware that anyone can copy our covers, it's just that it feels like betrayal if our cover artist helps them do it. And I would have a hard time buying any selfless motive (even if there was one) for doing so.
Amanda Brice said:
I defintiely agree it's odd she'd intentionally ask for a cover that uses the same image as another cover. It might be one thing for it to happen accidentally (I'm sure those covers I cited weren't intentional copies of each other), but entirely another thing to insist on copying.
I don't see where DD specifically states the author got the idea from the existing cover and didn't propose the use of the same stock - DD can you clarify?
To clarify, I am not sure where she came up with the image but no, I do NOT believe it was from my portfolio. I actually found the same models in a couple of other poses, but she doesn't like them as well. Yes, I know it's stock art, and yes, I hate to disappoint her but I think I'm taking the right action and most of you do seem to agree, especially authors.
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