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Don’t judge a book by its cover

Chris JHolland9 February 2018

People sometimes ask about the copyright issues which might arise if one reproduces the cover of a book on social media. For example you might want to use a copy of the front cover to draw the attention of your particular academic community to a useful publication or you might just want to recommend a book to your friends. There is no doubt that the designs of recent book covers are protected by copyright and the usual rules apply.

In principle, unless you believe your usage is covered by a statutory exception,  you do need the permission of the copyright owner, which will usually be the publisher (although perhaps not in every case). The book cover is arguably a complete “artistic work” in its own right, so you may be reproducing 100% of a protected work. Both reproducing it and communicating it to the public are activities restricted by copyright.

On the other hand, assuming that you are discussing the book in a positive light in your blog post, what are the chances that the publisher will really object to what you are doing? Is it not a form of free marketing for the publisher’s product?  The process of seeking permission may turn out to be slow and cumbersome and the chances of the copyright owner being concerned are quite small. One could imagine a scenario in which the copyright in the cover design belonged to a free-lance artist. The publisher has paid the artist for a licence to use his work. You, on the other hand, don’t have a licence and have not paid anything to the artist, so in this scenario you could attract the copyright owner’s ire. But then, how likely is that in practice?

In the end it comes down to a decision based on your judgement about the specific book, the context in which you plan to reproduce the front cover and your appetite for risk.

Neighbours’ Copyright Dispute on Long Island

Chris JHolland15 July 2016

A couple living on Long Island have accused neighbours of deliberately  copying the architectural design of their new house. This is reported in full in the New York Daily News.

Having designed what they thought of as their own unique home Mr and Mrs Fortgang were angered to discover that some neighbours had built a property in the vicinity which was (at least in their eyes) suspiciously  similar in design.

The Fortgangs appear to be starting legal proceedings alleging infringement of the copyright in their architural design on the part of their neighbours. Although this is an amusing story in some respects, it is also a useful reminder that buildings, plans and drawings are all protected by copyright in the UK as well as in the USA. They are categorised as “artistic works” under Section 4 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The article in the New York daily news includes photographs of both properties so you can make your own mind up as to whether there is an infringement of copyright.