Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Holy Grumpy Bulldogs! It's Two-Cent Tuesday: Covergate

I've gotten into a feud with an "indie" author so it's time for an epic Grumpy Bulldog rant!  Or maybe not so epic.

Anyway, I mentioned on this blog right here when I was talking about designing covers how I'd seen where one person used the exact same cover as a book already published (by a real I-don't-think-small-time publisher) and when I alerted the "indie" author she just decried my "negativity" and also tried to say hers was different.  Well, yes, SLIGHTLY different.  Since you probably don't remember, here's the images side-by-side.

If there's one thing you should know about Grumpy Bulldogs, it's that they do not let a bone go easily.  So now that this "indie" author is going around rolling out her new book with her copycat cover, I can't help but complain about it.  When my comment got pulled on someone's blog (incidentally someone whose book I plugged yesterday...) I decided to air my grievance on Goodreads with a one-star review.
Go ahead, try to take this bone from me!

And so let the whining begin!  The gist of it is the six-year-old's defense of "everyone else is doing it!"  To which what did your mom or dad always say:  If everyone else jumped off [whatever bridge or tall building] would you?"  That is not a valid excuse.

And she says "I didn't know in advance!"  Well no, but you DID know over two months ago when I first saw the thing on Twitter or a blog and complained about it then.  So, you've had since late January or early February to make the change.  "But that's too hard!"  Child, please.  You know how many covers I've made?  Dozens.  The hardest part is finding another image but after that it's just cropping it, resizing it, and putting text on it.  It only takes an hour or two and costs about $10.  We're not talking brain surgery.

I expect a lot of people though would side with her and say, "Well, what's the harm?"  The harm to me is that someone else was already using that image to promote her book.  It's already all over Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc.  It's in stores.  When she does a book signing that would be on any promotional materials like posters and such.  So that's the face she's presenting to the world and you're usurping it.  You might as well copy what's inside the book while you're at it.

It's one of those issues where I suppose LEGALLY there's probably not an issue.  I mean if the photographer puts it on a stock photo site then there's probably nothing the publisher of the first book can do.  Especially when you darken it and crop it differently so you can say it's not EXACTLY the same.  Maybe Briane Pagel can provide some insight into that.  The point is just because it's probably LEGAL, doesn't mean it's ETHICAL.  If you really respect other authors then you don't copy their books--the text or the cover.

That's my issue about the whole thing:  it's disrespectful to the first author to mimic their cover and claim it as your own.  As I said, you wouldn't copy their text, so why do you think it's OK to copy their cover?

Now then, you probably still don't believe me, so I took the liberty to usurp YOUR covers with MY book.  Let's see how you like it now!
Formerly "Dead Links" by Nigel Mitchell

Formerly "A Dead God's Wrath" by Rusty Webb

Formerly "The After" by Briane Pagel

Formerly "Monorama" by Tony Laplume

Formerly "Cassafire" by Alex Cavanaugh

Formerly "The House on the Corner" by Andrew Leon

Formerly "New Pride" by Laura Diamond

Formerly "Slipstream" by Michael Offutt
Last and certainly least:
Come on, doesn't it tick you off just a little bit to see your cover with MY name and title on it?  I know it would bug the shit out of me.  About as much as when I saw this:

Sidekick: The Misadventures of the New Scarlet Knight

Yes, someone released a book a couple weeks ago with a hero called The Scarlet Knight.  But I can't be too annoyed since it's not really that unique of a name.  I mean Rutgers uses that name for their teams, so he/she could claim that's where it came from.  Still, it creates a total "Ghostbusters" cartoon series thing where back in the 80s there was a Ghostbusters series based on the movies and then some crappy series that also called itself "Ghostbusters" and so the movie-based one changed its name to "The REAL Ghostbusters" and remained that way long after the other was off the air.  So maybe I should alter my cover to "Tales of the REAL Scarlet Knight."

Anyway, if you want to respect other authors in this great fraternity of writers and if you don't want to look like a jackass, then don't copy another cover.  And if you do find out that someone beat you to it, then be big enough to change yours.  If you're an "indie" author it's not that freaking difficult.

BTW, go look at my covers on Planet 99 Publishing and if you can find where someone else used an image on their book that came out before mine, I will be happy to change it.

Tomorrow, witness the birth of the REAL Scarlet Knight action figure!


  1. This is not the first instance of books sharing a cover image. I remember buying a book with a couple on the cover and seeing that same couple on another book. I've also heard of trad publishers copying key details from an indie-published cover. Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of details about that incident, but I think the artist was on DeviantArt.

    There are so many elements that go into cover design that the cover designer should be able to make each cover unique.

  2. I have to agree with the Grumpy Bulldog on this one. I know that if I found someone with the same cover art as mine, I would feel like they were pissing in my cornflakes. And, if I was the one at fault, I would want to rectify the issue ASAP, no matter how inadvertent it was. Who wants their book cover to look like a rip off of somebody else's? Come on, now.

    1. Exactly, the "indie" author should have more self-respect than to use something that's already been used. If you're going to be that generic why not just use a plain background with the text?

  3. LOL I love your rant. It actually doesn't piss me off to see someone else's name on my cover. I've gotten pretty laid back about the whole publishing industry once I realized all I'd ever make was a couple hundred bucks or something like that.

    I remember once you told me my title was really unoriginal. I agreed with you. Other people have pointed out the dozens of books out there named "Slipstream." I was like...meh.

    Just so you know, I didn't name my book that to throw mud on those other authors. I just couldn't think of anything else and I figured since there were a dozen books out there already with that name, that it was okay to be number 13. I think Bonnie Rait even has an album called that and there's some bad sci-fi movie with that name that has Mark Hammil in it or something like that.

    Anyway, sometimes life is just so hard. Why can't we all just get along?

    1. Titles are different unless you want to call your book "Gone With the Wind" or "Moby Dick" or something like that.

  4. First off, legality:

    Titles cannot be copyrighted. You can call your book "Moby Dick" or "Twilight" or "The Firm." I intend to name all my future books after Michael's, just to bug him.

    That's why, by the way, I can have a book called "Eclipse" even though Stephanie Meyers has a book called "Eclipse." It just so happens that the title works perfectly for both of our books, which are entirely unrelated.

    (By the way: I first thought the Monorama book was "Eclipse," as that photo of an astronaut is the same one I used for the original Eclipse cover/promos, only I colored it red. That photo was also used by Allana Harkin on her website, at least at one time.)

    As for cover photos, while I haven't researched it, I expect that the same rule would apply, especially to a stock photo that was essentially unaltered. The key to copyright and trademarking is whether it's public domain, or whether what you've done to the material alters it irrevocably. (I have a better, and more interesting, discussion of some facets of that on my law blog, here:


    In which Todd MacFarlane and Neil Gaiman battled it out in federal court right here in Madison, Wisconsin, over the rights to various incarnations of "Spawn."

    So that's why I think that a photo held up for public use -- such as stock photos-- can be publicly used without any legal recourse. Now, if you alter that photo in some significant way, as I did for the astronaut photo (making it red, because of the references to blood in my book) that might change the calculus. If Tony (or Allana Harkin) were to take my altered photo and use it there would probably be a copyright infringement, provided that I had altered the work enough to warrant a copyright. (Again, I'm not sure 100% about that.)

    A similar situation arose, actually, when Kim Kardashian sued over the Old Navy lookalike. (They settled.)

    That's where things get murky: using someone's likeness or image or original ideas without their permission for your own financial gain is not an easy morass to wade through.

    But here, if it is a stock photo, and the two covers appear to be essentially unaltered, I'd say that the odds are there is likely no legal recourse.

    As for whether it's a good idea, I think some indie authors might hope to capitalize on the confusion, although that's probably more likely if you use the same title rather than the image. And it could result in your book simply being buried. I just did a search for "Eclipse," and by the third Google page my book still hadn't shown up. On images, I kept scrolling for a while and didn't see my cover. If you search for "Eclipse book" it's worse, as a Yu-Gi-Oh book shows up and mine doesn't.

    If I were the author in question, once I was told that there's another book out with the same photo I'd scrap it -- and the reason is because it seems so darn unoriginal that it doesn't speak well of the book's writer.

    As for stock photos, this place gives them to you free:


    Also: I didn't know "Slipstream" was a common title. I liked it -- but "Oculus" was better because: weirder.

    Got to go! Work to be done! You all owe me $275 per hour for reading this comment. Send it c/o Grumpy Bulldog.

    1. It's a file image from CreateSpace. That's where it is, free for many people to use it. Same with the design of the cover itself. I've been amused to see it several times since in the Goodreads giveaways listings.

  5. This happens all the time because people use stock photos and anyone can use them over and over. I've noticed this mostly with Romance books (and I don't even read them), but I've seen other authors point out how it's the same couple on the cover with the shirtless guy. I would imagine that particular image has been used many times for a cover.

  6. I understand the gripe. But I also understand that movie posters and comic book covers have been aping each other for years. There's also an amusing duplication of the title "Life After Life" in two books released recently. It happens. Book covers are the same. It happens. I don't really understand the issue here. If the CONTENTS are somehow exactly the same, then there's an issue. If the contents aren't original, aren't the reason why you should actually care about the book, then I just don't know what to say. It's been an axiom since I was a kid that you don't judge a book by its cover. Yet that's what everyone seems to do.

    1. If you're using a copycat cover or a template cover then I really wouldn't expect much more originality in what's on the INSIDE of your book. Which I suppose for romances is fine. And there's a difference between "aping" and using the EXACT same image.

  7. This bugs me too, although, if I understand the situation correctly, I'm mostly bugged at the publisher over this one. During a recent whim of deciding to self-publish The Blutonian Death Egg (I changed my mind again), I was going to try to seriously upgrade the cover art and was looking at some stock photos to see if there was something out there that I was wowed by. When I looked, at least on the site I was on at the time, it was clear that if you were willing to pay more that they would sell you EXCLUSIVE rights to the photo you wanted.

    So, if big time publisher is purchasing stock art and is being so cheap as to not even purchase exclusive use of the photo then they've basically said anyone who wants to use that photo is welcome to it.

    If I paid for a photo, and found out later it was on a cover for a big time book I'd be pissed, and I'd probably use it anyway. Especially if I'd paid for it. I figure I have as much right to it as they do. Let them change their cover if they don't like it. They should have purchased exclusive rights to it if they wanted it so bad.

  8. Ironically enough that last cover is pretty cool. I can see both sides frankly. I'm in the DMZ on this one.

  9. Have I told you about the Scarlet Knight book I'm writing? I thought the name was really original.

    I kid I kid.

  10. The two covers are similar because both designers went to an image bank and purchased the same photograph. I've seen this happen many times. My illustrations are sold online and I've seen several of my illustrations on the covers of different novels.

  11. I actually like your take on my cover. Kinda flattering.

    As for the cover, it seems like the other author made some fair points. She probably also paid for the image, and that's money down the drain if she starts over. I don't know how much she paid for that image, but I can tell you I paid a lot more than $10 for the stock photos on my novel.

    Anyway, this sort of thing happens even among traditional publishers, and no one pulls the books off the shelf. Check out Stephenaie Meyer's "Twilight" cover and the cover of "Words to Live By" by C.S. Lewis.

    1. That makes me wonder what size you're using for images. From iStockPhoto or Shutterstock or Fotolia I can usually buy 3-4 in the small size for $10-$13. Though if I can I use MS Office Online which is free.

    2. When I used 123rt, the standard license is fairly cheap (usually $1 a photo), but isn't licensed for commercial mass-produced products like ebooks. The extended license (which allows commercial use) could run $25-$100. I switched to Shutterstock because they have a better selection, and all the sizes are the same price, and the standard license is good for print runs up to 200,000 (when I get to that level, I can afford to buy the extended license). But they charge $20 a photo unless you get the 5-photo package for $50.

    3. I see. For your next cover, try Fotolia or istockphoto. I think it's the same licensing as Shutterstock but not as expensive.



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