Navigating Cover Image Usage Rights
An author learns how to prevent copyright woes.As a first-time author, publishing a book was a long-term dream. My book, Release: A Woman’s Guide to Releasing Weight in Midlife Through Becoming Your Body’s Best Friend, was the culmination of 10 years of my career and the result of a lot of work. It was only 10 days after my book had launched on Kindle Direct Publishing that I received the most heart-wrenching email.
The “alert from Amazon KDP” notified me that it had come to the company’s attention that my book might include one or more images that I didn’t have the rights to and, therefore, my book had been made unavailable for sale. The only option given to me was to provide proof of usage rights within five days.
I understand that Amazon takes copyright issues very seriously, and I am grateful for this. However, I was disappointed that, as an author who did nothing wrong, I was not given any grace period from the time of the email, nor was I given the name of the person or company that made the complaint.Upon doing much research, my team realized that there is not a lot of information readily available on how to navigate Amazon flagging books and making them unavailable for purchase, aside from some author forums. So I reached out to a YouTube creator who often talks about the publishing industry, and his advice was helpful. He told me to have patience, reply to each Amazon email with as much information as I had, and expect the process to take a few days, if not longer.
His reassurance gave me hope to navigate the process and eventually get to a resolution, and it also inspired this article so more authors facing this issue have a plan for how to proceed.
Seeking a resolution
As a new author, I was told I would encounter some challenges along the way. However, one that I did not expect was having to prove that my cover image was indeed free to be used commercially.
When searching for a book cover designer, I selected someone who came recommended, signed a contract giving me full rights to all the intellectual property he would produce, and agreed to share all source files upon completion of the project. As I was hiring a professional, I assumed that he had rights to the image used. I thought I had covered all my bases.
When Amazon pulled my book from the Kindle store and requested proof of rights, the designer initially failed to comply, but, upon my insistence, he eventually provided me with a link from Unsplash, the only information he had.
Documentation I provided that was deemed insufficient by KDP included a copy of the designer’s signed contract and the source files he provided, links to the Unsplash image and the image license stating that I had the rights to use the image for commercial use, and screenshots of my Instagram conversation with the photographer, in which he confirmed I was able to use his image on my book cover.
I was quite concerned. I had done a significant amount of promotion for the book launch, only 10 days prior, and my book cover image was everywhere. Changing the cover so soon would have been time-consuming and costly and could lead to confusion—all of which I was trying to avoid.
The resolution came once the photographer kindly agreed to sign an official letter that I would then share with Amazon. KDP finally accepted this as sufficient proof, and my book was reinstated in the Kindle store within 48 hours of the approval email.
I feel lucky that the photographer, who had nothing to gain from helping me, decided to take the time to do so. If I had not been able to find him or if he had been unwilling to sign, I do not believe that my book would have been reinstated, which is a scary thought for any author.
During the week of my launch, my book ranked as a #2 and #3 bestseller on Amazon Canada within different categories and was promoted on the Hot New Release list in Canada and the United States. Since the issue occurred, I have been unable to rank within the Kindle store.
If you have already published a book and Amazon flags it, respond early and often. With each reply I sent to KDP, it seemed that the five-day response deadline reset. In scenarios like this, in which the author may be waiting days to hear back from a designer or trying to track down a photographer, five days may not seem sufficient, so I recommend keeping the communications going and updating KDP along the way.
If you are embarking on a cover design process, prepare yourself for any potential future challenges by getting a form of image use permission that KDP will accept. Here is what I used that KDP considered acceptable: it was titled “Image Use Authorization” and included the following:
- “I, [photographer’s name], confirm that I am the original owner of the image titled [image title; image URL] and that under the [image site] license, [author name], owner of [book title], is allowed to use the image for his/her/their book cover.”
- a photo of the original image
- my Kindle book cover
- an image reference number—in my case, the Unsplash page’s unique URL
- the photographer’s signature and date
Whether you are a new author working on your cover design or you have an already published book, I hope my experience will help you, should you find yourself in my shoes.
Juliana Leamen is the founder of Naturally Joyous Inc., a holistic menopause transition expert, an author, and a podcaster.