Art Release Form for Ebook Cover

I was haunting one of the well-known shared art boards, and found a guy whose work I like, he’s amenable. We agree on the price.

But neither he nor I have any experience at this.

How much detail do we need in an art release? I was thinking just, “I, the artist, permit him, the writer, to use this picture for his Ebook cover; he, the writer, promises he won’t use it for anything else. $X has been paid for this permission.” And we both sign it.

What else is needed? Is an Email back and forth enough, or do we absolutely have to send a piece of paper back and forth? I’m presuming good faith, i.e., neither of us wants to trap the other in a gotcha of any kind.

Non-lawyers’ opinions entirely welcome!

If a release form is actually required (I have no idea about these things) I think I’d use a signable PDF.

You’ll also want to specify whether the artist gets to use the art for anything else, especially other books. Make sure you get high resolution art in case you need it later, for instance, if the book gets printed.

Good points. I’m not sure if I’m tech-savvy enough to make a signable pdf, but that does seem like the right thing to do. And good point, iljitsch, about not wanting the art used for someone else’s books, and the high-resolution image.

Thank you both!

You need clauses for:

Marketing: Can the image be used outside of the book cover in promotional materials, advertising, flyers, website promotions, etc?

Merchandising: Can the image be used on posters, pillows, mugs, tee shirts designed to show off the image?

For example, Shutterstock licenses allow marketing, but not merchandising. I mean, if he’s cool with it, he’s probably cool with it, but these are standard inclusions.

Oh, and I always allow the artist to use the image and any other promotional material in his own portfolio.

Oh, and email is fine. No need for a formal contract.

Things to keep in mind, and I also want to keep in mind for his benefit as well because a lot of artists forget what they are entitled to.

  1. Normally with book contracts the art is contracted for a specific edition for a specific amount of time. For example, the english ebook edition only, for 10 years. After 10 years a new contract would need to be brought up. For the French print edition a new contract would need to be brought up, and so on. (Basically, if this book is successful enough to warrant republishing, both the writer and artist get their share.)

  2. If it was being published through a company, usually royalties are involved. Something small for just a cover (maybe 1%), more if it’s illustrated inside as well (more towards 5%). However, this isn’t commonly done with self-published ebooks as they usually - usually - don’t become blockbuster hits, and if they do, you’ll want to get it printed and at that point a new contract comes into play and then the royalties can be added in.

  3. How the artist is going to be credited. A big name on the inside title page? A small credit in the book publishing notes? Up to what he wants and if you’re willing to do it.

  4. Marketing. Your rights for reproducing it for advertising - web ads, posters, tradeshow signage - usually is an extra cost (in this case he may forgo extra payment, up to him). Usually also time-limited just like for the cover. Artists usually retain rights for personal use and promotion, i.e. use in their portfolio, for the rest of their life.

  5. Artists usually keep their copyright while writers keep their copyright. The point of 1 and 4 is that you are being given limted use of his copyright under specific conditions, and he’s otherwise keeping it. It’s a whole other ballgame if he sells the whole copyright to you outright. Very rare, very expensive (if done right, anyway).

  6. A bit that says he can’t go on to use your ideas to create a work of his own that would compete with yours due to similarity.

  7. The other basics of a contract such as delivery times, amount of revisions, cost of revisions beyond initial agreements, cancellion costs, deposit costs, failure costs, etc.

And no, you absolutely want a formal contract. For your sake and for his sake. Electronic signature PDF is good enough but there’s always faxing, scanning, photos, and pdfs attached to emails to make it work. You’re covering both your asses here because money is involved. If your book sells like hotcakes, big money. You never know.

Here is a good extra-formal contract for children’s book illustration to give you an idea. I think it’s a great starting point with some editing.

ETA: I’m a graphic designer and illustrator. Going into this type of work without a contract means eventually someone will be burned very badly to the tune of thousands of dollars. He needs to get into the habit of presenting a full contract.

LibrarySpy and Macca26: Whew! Okay, more complicated than I realized, but that’s why I asked! Thank you! Especially thank you for the template contract! I’ll be studying that in some depth, to figure what changes to make so it applies to my exact case.

My project is just going to be an Amazon Kindle book and I doubt it’ll ever tote up to thousands of dollars, but it’s best to be professional, and to handle even the small stuff as if it were the big stuff.

(For a different project entirely, wanted permission to use a photograph of a prop. The creator of the prop has the artist’s copyright on it…but what about a photograph of it? I did the sensible thing: I asked him! He said go ahead. Whew!)

FWIW, I recently exchanged and signed work contracts and tax forms via DocuSign. It was nice because it was easy, though at least one of you will need to create an account to use it. They have a 30 day free trial.

Or, make use of scanners and email, which is how I usually do it. A written contract has saved my bacon at least once that I recall, so make a habit of always drawing one up. It’s not about a lack of trust, but of clarifying exactly what your mutual expectations are, so there are no miscommunications to sort out later.

Regarding photography: prop artist retains copyright on the actual physical prop. Photographer retains copyright of the photo of the prop. If the photo is to be used for any commercial use, you and the prop designer would need to sign a property release agreement – basically like a model release, except for property (objects, buildings, land). If you’re not familiar with model / property releases, you can Google for templates, find smartphone apps that do it (Model Release Master is one), or check out the American Society of Media Photographer’s Professional Business Practices in Photography book.

I haven’t used DocuSign, but there’s a service called Docracy that I have used that allows you to search for contracts that others have added, fork and modify them according to your needs, and then send to both parties to sign. (And it’s free.)

Overall, I’d suggest something like this if you’re not going to use a lawyer, since it includes an impartial third party and a definable “official” document that both parties are agreeing to.

Of course, if you aren’t using a lawyer, then it’s on you to determine how reliable the wording of the agreement is.

Kaio and Sage Rat: I like the idea of a document sharing service, but I’ll probably go with printing, scanning, and sending as attachments. Essentially the same as faxing.

I definitely want to “do it myself” rather than go to a lawyer, just 'cause it’s such small potatoes. But this thread has been mighty helpful, pointing out categories of rights and other details I wouldn’t have thought of. I hadn’t thought of an expiration date for rights.

(Sheesh, that’ll be tough, because I’ll have to figure a way to remind myself when the day comes! When the day comes, do I have to get on Amazon and take the cover art out of the Ebook package? That means I need to plan ahead with backup cover art? Yikes! I’m too lazy for that kind of administrative detail!)

A license for a specific use in perpetuity is also an option, if the artist will agree to it. Or allow that terms can be renegotiated after X years, but that the current agreement remains in full force and effect unless and until it’s renegotiated in writing.

I’ve not done anything with book covers, so YMMV, but with photography contracts I’ve never included a time limit. Rather I was very specific about the limits of usage that their license grants them (e.g. personal use, marketing, but not merchandising, may not enter into an agreement with a third party regarding use of my photo without negotiating with me in writing, etc.). Also, I’m specific that they don’t get that license until they pay me (which is the contract that saved my bacon – I had to send them a cease and desist notice before they bothered to fork over the cash).

At very least that last problem won’t occur. I’ll pay right up front.

(But…who knows; the artist might drag his feet!)

(I’m actually prepared to lose the investment if the product isn’t very good. That’s something that just can’t be protected against, as far as I can see. If the art is crappy…well, lucky me, I’ve just bought rights to some crappy art!)