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Keeping Your e-Pubbing Legal

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 09 March 2012 · 364 views

by R.C. Lewis

We all know how easy it's become to digitally self-publish an eBook these days. That means it's become just as easy to get yourself in some real legal trouble. Just as we wouldn't want a so-called "writer" to plagiarize our work, likewise we shouldn't infringe on the copyrights of our fellow artists ... any of them. And some of them, you may never have even thought of.

So here we go. An overview of things to watch out for, and a few tips on doing it right.

Cover Images

Just because you found it on the internet and were able to download it doesn't mean you can use an image (photo, graphic, etc.) for commercial purposes. For that reason ...

DO NOT rely on a Google Images search (or similar under any other search engine). You'll find anything and everything, and often the source site won't have any connection to the original artist. The sites you find may or may not be using that image legally.

DO go to royalty-free stock image sites, such as istockphoto, bigstockphoto, and 123rf. READ THE USAGE AGREEMENTS/LICENSES CAREFULLY. Sometimes their usage depends on whether you "significantly alter" the image (which is often the case with book covers). Sometimes there is a print limit.

Some prohibit the use of images as part of a logo. Some restrict the maximum size (resolution) you can use commercially.

Some of those restrictions can be nullified if you buy an extended use license (usually significantly more expensive). Some of the restrictions are absolute no matter what.


ANOTHER OPTION is a site like deviantART. You'll find a wide variety of artists, from amateur to professional. Whether or not you can use a given image varies on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the artist just requires credit. Sometimes the image is free for use. Sometimes you can't use the image at all, but the artist can be hired to commission an original piece. READ CAREFULLY.


DO NOT assume that because a font is on your computer, it's fair game. Often fonts get added because of programs you installed. The software company had permission to use that font, and by extension, you have permission for personal use of that font. Your commercial use of that font does not always follow.

DO search various specialty font sites (there are about a gazillion) and CAREFULLY note personal/commercial use allowances. Sometimes you need to purchase a license for a font—and they can be expensive in some cases. Sometimes the font artist just asks for a donation, with the amount at your discretion. (Be reasonable, not too cheap.)


If you're doing your own cover design (or even interior design, creating watermarks or something for a POD version), you may be familiar with the multitude of things you can do with special Photoshop brushes. They're available for download, again at many sites.

DO NOT assume no one will ever know you used a particular brush that's not licensed for commercial use.

DO carefully check guidelines on whatever site you download the brushes from. If it doesn't indicate personal vs. commercial use, find someone to ask.


The infamous song lyric bugaboo. Song titles are fair game, so your safest bet is to reference the song that way and let your reader do the singing.

DO NOT assume that quoting just one line, or just two, or just the chorus, or just one paragraph of your favorite book is okay. Big-6 publishers have had to pay big bucks for a single line of lyrics. You don't want the artist to sue you for the same ... or more.

DO check and double-check. Maybe a poem or novel you want to quote from are in the public domain. Maybe you have a connection to the artist and can get permission. Maybe you don't know the artist, but are really persuasive. Fine, go for it, but get a lawyer to draw up some paperwork for you.

When in doubt, leave it out.

Anything I've missed or should elaborate on further? Do you have tips, tricks, and warnings of your own? Please share.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to deaf teenagers by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and Twitter (@RC_Lewis).



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