On Stock Images and Multiple Owners

10 Mar

One of the major weaknesses of self-published books is that they often have very poor covers. This shouldn’t really be surprising. Artwork produced by artists like Brad Fraunfelter, who did the cover for Schooled in Magic can be quite expensive, particularly for the struggling young author.  (As in 3/4 figures.)  So the aspiring Kindle author is forced to either depend on someone who might not be a professional or reliable artist or take a stock image and turn it into a cover.

Stock images are, simply put, images that can be purchased for private use at a small (once-off) fee. The author buys the image, adds a title (either through MS PAINT or a dedicated cover designer) and then uploads it as the cover design for his book. Unsurprisingly, finding the right cover can be tricky; some of the cover images I’ve used over the years have fit the book perfectly, while others look faintly odd. There’s no way to get a specialised image made for you without shelling out a lot more money.

The other downside to using these images is that you don’t have exclusive rights to them, just the right to use them. My publisher could make a terrible fuss if Random Kindle Author No.1 took the Schooled in Magic cover, replaced the title with his own and uploaded it to Amazon. A Kindle author might be irked to discover that someone else had used the same cover image, but he or she would not be in any position to do anything more than stamp their feet in irritation.

I mention all this because yesterday (9th March 2013) I looked at the reviews and discovered – horror of horrors – a one-star review for A Learning Experience. I gulped, reminded myself that I’m a big boy with a thick skin and opened the review. Much to my horror, the entire review consisted of a screed from an author I hadn’t heard of, claiming I’d stolen his cover (and that my reviews were all fake). He ended up with threats to report me to Amazon and implied that no one else would know about it if I took my cover down ASAP. I couldn’t help sniggering at the last part, despite my horror. If he’d posted the comments on a review – and people like me read reviews before buying – everyone who looked at it would see it.

 So, in the best tradition of internet detectives, I started poking around and discovered the following facts.

-I purchased the rights to use the stock image in June 2013. (To be fair to the guy, I didn’t actually publish the image until this year.)

-I didn’t purchase any exclusive rights (which I knew already) and nor did he. In fact, the image was still available from source.

-His cover designer (who, in her own words, was absolutely mortified to hear about this from him) didn’t have the exclusive rights, let alone sell them to him. (As a side note, the implication she did could have legal issues for her too.)

-At least two other books used the same cover image. As of writing, at least one of them hasn’t received this guy’s attention.

-Finally, his cover designer included a reddish hue missing from both my work and the other books with the same cover.

In short, the author does not have a leg to stand on – and, furthermore, he has committed libel against me by making claims that are demonstrably false.

Now, I’ve seen ‘my’ cover image used by another author before. I won’t deny that it was a shock to see the cover I picked out on someone else’s book, but there were no grounds for legal complaints. I didn’t own all rights to the image, merely the right to use it. To be honest, once I got over the horror and then the irritation, I would be inclined to view it as nothing more than a coincidence. If the author had contacted me via email – my email can be located through my site – I would have explained all this to him in a more peaceable manner. (His cover designer has apparently tried to explain it too.)

Instead, he acted in a manner that is, put bluntly, staggeringly rude. And, perhaps worse, threatens to harm my reputation.

Given the timing, I don’t think this is an attempt to extort anything from me. But it’s not the best way to deal with a sensitive situation.

<Rolls eyes>


ETA – The review is gone.  Whew.

26 Responses to “On Stock Images and Multiple Owners”

  1. Robb Bennell March 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    Such a shame that people seem to fly off the handle & be rude these days, let’s hope the silly bugger calms down & sees sense soon eh?

  2. Peter Johnstone March 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    $550 seems a bit steep. I was charged £90 for a cracking piece of cover art that used multiple stock images. Yours cover is great, but it’s not three times better than mine.

  3. salgak March 10, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    What a maroon !! And to top it all off. . . .the guy’s reviews are. . . not good. Ladies and Gents, what we have here is a butt-hurt wannabee. . . .possibly even with a GHH. . .

  4. Jeffrey Sue March 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    Sue the sucker!

    • Matthew Greene March 10, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      Unfortunately, if the perp and the victim are in different countries it can make it very difficult to sue.

      • chrishanger March 10, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

        To be honest, I’d be happy if the review was removed. I don’t have any right to the picture, nor do any of the others who’ve used it. Chris Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 21:31:41 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

  5. Matthew Greene March 10, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    well, I’ll be happy to down vote it for you!

  6. John Tae March 11, 2014 at 1:44 am #

    How about going to the doppelganger covered book and explaining how being a nasty dumb ass doesn’t sell books. Saying something makes you look stupid, writing something stupid makes it official.

  7. James L Young March 11, 2014 at 2:31 am #

    If you’re looking for affordable (~50) cover art, I can put you in touch with the gentleman who did my cover art. I also know some other graphic artists who are looking for work.

  8. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard March 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    Chris, it looks like your “friend’s” review has been taken down. [Evil Grin]

  9. Per G Jönsson March 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Was that idiot drunk when he wrote that trash? I for one found that abusive enough to report it.

  10. Luky March 16, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    Just finished reading A Learning Experience this morning. Really enjoyed it. Even liked the quip about taking maple syrup as a trade good like Ringo used (another of my favorite authors). It made me chuckle when saw the cover as it was also used on a Human Chronicles ebook I have (thought I got the same book twice at first). When will we see a sequel? I have brought most of your books now. Finished Ark Royal the other day and would like to see a sequel for that book too. Thanks for the great stories.


  1. Minor Updates | The Chrishanger - March 16, 2014

    […] A Learning Experience doesn’t seem to have suffered from the whole kerfuffle over cover design. The review has been removed, sales have gone upwards and I’ve heard nothing from the reviewer. […]

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  3. The Economics of Indie Publishing- Chris Nuttall | According To Hoyt - June 6, 2015

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    […] a stock photo?  Lords yes.  But you won’t end up having something happen like the idiocy that afflicted one of our fellow authors, i.e. someone claiming publicly on your Amazon reviews.  I’ll also say […]

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