Re: RARA-AVIS: paperbacks to poster

From: hardcasecrime (
Date: 24 Jul 2010

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    > I get a get a kick out of publishers, some on this very list,
    > in fact, who claim a copyright to their covers. They obviously
    > didn't check with their lawyers.
    > Jeff

    Not sure whether I'm one of the "some on this very list, in fact" you meant, but I should be if I'm not.

    Check with *your* lawyer: when a painter paints a painting or a photographer takes a photo, that work is protected by copyright just as much as it is when a writer writes a novel. Now, the protections of copyright are not absolute; a copyright holder can't prevent what's called "Fair Use," for example, and there's some disagreement about where the edges of "Fair Use" fall (as there is about most things in the law). But illustrating a book review with a picture of the book being reviewed is pretty clearly fair use (even if the review is a negative one), as is illustrating an article about an author with images of that author's books, and these are just two examples. If you make an iconic cover that becomes famous and Mad magazine or National Lampoon creates an imitation that looks almost identical but with some comical twists, that's parody and is protected under Fair Use.

    But there are other examples that would pretty clearly not be Fair Use. If, for instance, I buy only North American paperback rights to a given book and the author retains hardcover and e-book and foreign language rights, and I accordingly only buy the right to use the cover painter's work on North American paperback editions, if the author subsequently sells hardcover or e-book or foreign language rights to other publishers, those other publishers can't reproduce the artist's work on the covers of their editions. The artist has retained those rights and if the publishers want them they have to contact the artist (and, unless the artist is a very nice guy, pay him some money).

    If an apparel company decided that they like my covers and created a line of clothing that displayed my covers on the front of shirts or the backs of hoodies or whatever, I could sue them. Yes, you see people doing this with *vintage* covers, but that's either on the theory that those covers have fallen out of or were never in copyright (because copyright law was different back in the 1930s and 40s than it is today) or on the theory that the owners of those copyrights are long dead or long out of business and will never take action against a pissant little company even if they might have the legal right to do so.

    What about a library displaying blow-ups of the covers of books they want to highlight to readers? I don't know; that feels okay to me at a gut level, but you don't see a JD on my wall and a lawyer might have a different opinion. Two laywers might have different opinions from each other. But it's definitely not a cut-and-dried "there are no copyrights covering book covers, you idiot" case.


    P.S. Kinkos has made blow-ups of paperback covers for me more than once without complaining. Yes, sometimes it was of my own books, but they didn't ask whether they were my books, so there was no way they could have known that. I suspect whether they object or not depends on which Kinkos you visit and which clerk you get.

    --- In, "Jeff Vorzimmer" <jvorzimmer@...> wrote:
    > Book covers? Book covers are _not_ copyrightable. Period.
    > Even if a book cover has a logo on it, you can argue fair use, if you
    are reproducing an entire cover of which the logo is simply a part.
    > I get a get a kick out of publishers, some on this very list, in fact,
    who claim a copyright to their covers. They obviously didn't check with their lawyers.
    > Jeff
    > > Actually, you may find that many printing stores -- especially the
    > > chains like Kinkos, et al, will not do copies or enlargements of
    book covers
    > > (hardcover or paperback) because of fears of copyright
    > > Because their policy is a blanket one, it doesn't matter if it's
    > > bestseller or a book from decades ago...they simply won't do it.

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