Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Book Cover Design Principles To Avoid Lawsuits

With the ease of self-publishing these days, any author can put together a book, but at some point they have to create a book cover that will be appealing to readers. The cover has to say something in keeping with the book's content, whether it is the shirtless man with rippling muscles on the front of a romance novel or the image of a gun on the cover of a murder mystery.

These simple principles are used by professional cover designers, as well as other marketing types who probably know more about how to promote your book via a well-crafted cover than you know. Independent authors often turn to a professional to handle the cover design. Not everyone is handy with Photoshop or InDesign, and not everyone has a tech-savvy family member available to handle the artwork that you have so cleverly concocted in your head.

Warning: Do not use random pictures pulled off the Internet unless you know the subjects are all dead
Not all professional book cover designers are immune from making mistakes, however.

Professor Diarmaid Ferriter wrote a history book, as is the habit of the "publish or perish" set in academia. His treatise on the origins and development of a tea-totaling movement placed the drinkers and non-drinkers as "extremes" in Irish society. The whole world associates Ireland with drinking, after all, and you'll find an Irish pub in every corner of the globe. The professor thought it would be intriguing to look at the collision of those two extremes, by exploring the Pioneer Total Abstinence of the Sacred Heart organization as it existed within a boozy country.

His publisher, Irish Academic Press, turned over cover design to Jarlath Hayes, a professional cover designer who arranged some old snapshots in a way intended to portray the two sides side by side. The book was published, the professor sat back to rest on his laurels, and out of nowhere came a lawsuit.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hayes, who died before the suit was filed, he used a photograph on the cover that depicted a man who is very much alive and who very much did not appreciate the image that was created by the designer. Trad singer Tim Lyons was depicted as part of the alcoholic extreme, juxtaposed against the tea-totaling Pioneers in two other images.

Mr. Lyons did not like the way his picture, worth one thousand words, suggested that he was an alcoholic. Being a traditional singer, Mr. Lyons would often perform at pubs, and the photograph alone, without context, certainly did him no favors. There he was in his younger days, standing at the bar with two pints and a tumbler of whiskey before him. It appeared that the drinks were his, not one, but three, the mark of a drunkard with no shame.

He sued Professor Ferriter and Irish Academic Press for casting aspersions on his character. The poor professor tired to get himself removed from the suit, stating quite accurately that he wasn't the one who created the book cover and it was the publisher who controlled its acceptance and use.

The judge didn't dismiss the writer two years ago when Prof. Ferriter pleaded for mercy. He was but the author, a reasonable defense that failed, and the legal proceeding continued grinding through the courts. 

The two sides have now settled, although details have not been announced. You can be sure that someone is paying real money as part of that settlement.

Take this as a cautionary tale. When you design your book cover, or have it designed for you, do not forget to Google the images in use and be sure that the faces appearing on your labor of love are those of people very much dead.

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