Using Stock Photos for (erotica) Book Covers
I was in the process of designing a book cover for my short story, A Catamite’s Love. Swimming in the depths of photoshop hell, something kept tugging at me from the back of my mind. I couldn’t stop worrying, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Well, I eventually did. Let me backtrack some.
Being new to the process of using stock photos for book covers, I searched high and low for images on stock photo sites such as Shutterstock and Dreamstime. It took me ages to find the perfect bae to represent either my characters Nihilus or Vitus. Excited when I finally struck gold, I quickly purchased myself a few images of a model who I thought looked exactly like my character Vitus, as well as a still life.
I wish I had held back. (Well, I don’t regret it that much…I can still post the images on my blogs and what not. Mind as well put them to some use.)
Due to the nature and content of my book, a homoerotica, I should have been looking at the licensing terms and agreements (usually the tiny, faded out links in the nether realms of a webpage) instead of browsing images of Roman studs. Exploring my hesitations too late, I emailed support at Shutterstock and received very discouraging replies.
Me: I would like to use a picture of a model for the cover of an erotica (e-book). Does this violate model’s release/license agreement?
Shutterstock Support: Our license do not allow any usage of image for sexual contents.
Me: Are images without models (still lifes) also prohibited from use for erotica e-book covers?
Support: Yes All of our images are prohibited for sexual content use.
Me: (sighs heavily) Well, fuck. Do I need to ask permission to piss now too? Or is someone going to use my act of pissing in a sexually explicit context?
So…now I have a bunch of virtual paperweights in my Novel Material folder. I don’t doubt other stock sites who share the same terms as Shutterstock will give me similar replies.
Okay, yes, not everyone complies with terms, and yes, people get away with misusing images, but if you’re gonna go through life thinking something’s “okay” just because someone else did it and got away with it…Well, I just hope you’re not a lawyer. Companies hardly ever take up issue, but it’s the “little” guys, the photographers/artists themselves, who tend to find offense or issue. They just don’t typically have the means to take legal action (except for this model), and more often than not they’re usually nice people who prefer not to blow matters out of proportion. I only wish these photographers provided a direct contact for business. Sometimes it’s better to ask them directly than through secondary channels who probably hardly touch base with them because let’s be honest; how much do these million dollar companies actually care?
I don’t mean to scare people from using stock sites. By all means, I think they are glorious inventions. But whenever using images created by other individuals, I have to advise looking at the website’s licensing, crediting, and fair use terms of their photos, and not simply for the sake of compliance. When using models’ faces on a book cover for explicit material, consider the model’s position (unless the image is obviously meant to titillate the sensitive organs, then what the hell?). And while there’s a huge controversy over whether erotica constitutes as pornography or not (I don’t think so), if the book contains explicit material, then, well, it contains explicit material, even with plot and character development tossed in. Those young kids in the erotica/romance aisle of the bookstore better have asked their mothers to sign permission slips…
There is a workaround, though. And I think it’s pretty obvious; slash off the model’s identifying features. Does this work? Is it anymore “legal” than having their face entirely shown? I’d like to think of this as a…Get-away-with-it-until-you’re-caught sort of thing.
Just as a side note, I am quite familiar with how crediting art works in general. Unless otherwise noted, give credit where it’s due, especially if you plan to use it for commercial purposes. Do your research if you want to stay out of trouble. Even for simple things like textures, fonts, or clipart. Deviantart and tumblr has such a vocal community who rally together with pitchforks when their members discover their images have been used without credit or permission. Unless you genuinely don’t care, be considerate. I know it’s all a pain in the arse, I totally get it, but 1) nothing appears out of thin air; people worked on these things, and 2) now’s a good time to start developing your legal sense!
- Scarlet Cox has provided on her post a list of stock photo sites which are erotica friendly (the trade-off being a MUCH smaller selection). She also provides great insight into this rather poorly touched upon subject. “Where to find erotic stock photography for your book covers” by Scarlet Cox, ScarletCox.com
- If you prefer not to do covers yourself, which often is the suggested case, then I personally endorse freelancers. While you’ll have to put in work to do a bit of soul-searching, their price range tends to be within reasonable means. While I agree you should invest wisely (spending while being mindful of long-term return), firms are asking you to hire them for typically $300+ to design a book cover. The general consensus in the indie writing and reading community at large seems to be charging 99 cents-$2.99 or even free altogether for authors just starting out. Maybe in five years, you’ll make back that $300+. So again, weigh your options carefully. It’s your book, and it’s your wallet.