Thoughts

Using Book Covers in Reviews

After reading several blog posts about copyright and book covers, I have wondered how you should include a book cover image. Book covers, like any image, fall under copyright law because they are creative output like the text in the pages they surround. I don’t want to rehash the issue here about copyright and book covers. Mod at Cover Your Dreams and Tasha B. at Book Bloggers International wrote about the issue in detail. Copyrightlaws.com tries to make it clear about this grey area of copyright law. I’m not a lawyer, but this has made me wary about using book covers in my reviews.

From a reviewer and blogger standpoint, posts should have pictures because a lot of people don’t want to read dense text. (It was an annoying fact when I switched from chapter books to novels.) In school, I learned that product reviews should have pictures of the product. Book reviews are product reviews; therefore, there should be at least one photo of the book. Pictures also augment the writing. Personally, I remember book covers better than I do titles and authors. So, book cover images help with advertising.

Tara at The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh! wrote about copyright and book covers, which addressed some issues I had. One of these was the cover advertising the book. You can always ask the publisher for permission. If the publisher does not respond or you are generally concerned about using covers in your reviews, two solutions Tara suggests is to “[use] thumbnail images” and to “[take] your own creative photos.”

I see creative photos on Bookstagram, and I’ve seen great photos in some book reviews. The reviewer tends to have better credibility in product reviews when they show either themselves using the product or at least the product they received, so I imagine that also applies to book reviews. If I take my own creative photos, that works for most books I own. Two issues come to mind with this:

  1. The book no longer has a dust jacket (usually because I bought it that way)
  2. The book’s library binding blocks parts of the cover.

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I’ve never liked taking the dust jacket off of the book, but I have purchased books that didn’t have them. Most have no identifying features except a title on the spine. I have found the occasional book that has a design under the dust jacket along with identifying information on the front cover. That type of makes some sense for me if the dust jacket has been lost.

My biggest issue is library binding. My local library binds books so that the library’s bar code and sometimes the spine’s labels cover parts of the cover. My college’s library seems to stick the Library of Congress call numbers on the front cover. Below are my public library’s copy of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Abertalli, and my school library’s copy of Gay Tales and Voices from the Arabian Nights, edited by Henry M. Christman:

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It doesn’t help that library binding leaves a brighter reflection of the light than normal book binding. There is nothing wrong with library binding. One of the benefits is that it preserves the book.

Maybe it’s vanity for my blog, but it bothers me to take a picture with these labels and bar codes covering the cover. I think I have been affected by Bookstagram, much in the same way that we are affected by magazine photos of “beauty.” One argument that I should remember is that if I want to show the copy I read, I should photograph the library book because that is what I read.

Does it really matter whether you use a scanned image or a creative photograph, assuming copyright issues have been satisfied? I don’t think so. I get most of my book cover images from Goodreads and Amazon, and those seem to work just fine. Either works for me so long as it makes the reviewer happy.

Where do you get your book cover images from? If you take your own photos, what do you think about photographing library books? Do you mind that labels can cover the original book image? Leave a comment below.

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14 thoughts on “Using Book Covers in Reviews

  1. My understanding is that use of book covers in book reviews falls under “Fair Use” with regards to copyright, specifically covered by the concept of “commentary”. It may be a gray area but it’s one which has never been tested legally that I know of.

    1. I don’t know why anyone would make an issue about using a book cover. I haven’t heard of anyone getting sued either. I’ve seen bloggers writing about it for the last couple of months.

  2. Yes, that is correct. Book covers fall under fair use and as long as you don’t edit the book cover or claim the cover as your own, you may use the image. Parajunkee has covered this a few different times on her site. 🙂 I grab my images from GoodReads.

  3. I use images from Amazon. I’m fairly certain that using book covers in reviews falls under Fair Use. But most of the book covers on my blog link back to Amazon with an affiliate link anyway, which is definitely covered as far as legality goes. I don’t think there are any authors or publishers out there though who are going to complain if you share their book cover in a post since it’s just more free advertising. Obviously making assumptions like that wouldn’t hold up in court, but using book covers doesn’t concern me, and I’m someone who’s generally really twitchy about copyright issues lol. Like, I won’t share artwork on my blog with a link back to the artist’s page or anything like that without permission even though something like that *might* fall under Fair Use too.

  4. I photograph a lot of library books too. Sometimes you can hide the sticker behind a prop. I’ve even been known to peel them off and put them back on after the photo.

  5. You bring up a really interesting discussion! This is actually something I had been thinking about for a while, but I’ve never run into any trouble by using a book cover in my reviews, but I definitely will think about taking my own pictures! They let me be more creative, but on the other hand, I’m thinking about how it won’t match up with the rest of my blog posts…. so I’m still thinking about it!

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