Free for Commercial Use*

I had an interesting exchange with someone in one of my Facebook writing groups this morning.

She was asking about a website where she could make graphics for her book for Instagram. We like the pretty graphics. I like making them though I don’t post them anywhere very often.

Anyway, she didn’t like using Canva because the learning curve was too steep. She asked for other suggestions, and she always had an excuse why she didn’t want to try other design programs. I told her to try BookBrush, since I’ve heard good things about that, but I told her, she needs to make sure the photos she’s using are for commercial use. I read a discussion about BookBrush in one of my design groups on Facebook and they said BookBrush’s terms of service won’t cover you if you use a photo that’s not available for commercial use. Canva probably won’t either–not everyone using the software is going to be trying to sell books. Some people do use the photos and fonts for personal use, such as wedding invitations, and you just have to be careful. We’re part of the writing community, so naturally we think everyone is using everything for book marketing.

This aggravated her, and she said that she just wanted to make some graphics for Instagram. Simple. Easy-peasy.

If you’ve been in the game for any amount of time, we know that it’s never that easy. It’s intimidating and scary because using something that you don’t have the right to use can be very very costly. I wasn’t telling her to be careful to give her a hard time; I only wanted warn her that using a stock photo for book marketing is considered using it for commercial use.

She said she’d hire someone.

That’s fine, but in this day and age of scammers, hiring someone doesn’t always take care of the risk.

Finally I realized the problem: she didn’t want to learn a software. Canva is simple, but she didn’t want to bother. She turned down others’ suggestions and BookBrush, as well, because she simply didn’t want to take the time. That’s a whole different ballgame–I mean, how do you expect to get anywhere if you’re not willing to take the time to learn? When you’re an indie author, you’re suddenly a marketer, graphic designer, maybe a book formatter, and editor. It’s a lot to take in, and if you’re in it for the long haul, some of those things are unavoidable.

But anyway, what can you do to safeguard your business?

  1. Make sure the photos are for commercial use. 
    This doesn’t mean you can’t use photos from Pixabay or Pexels or Unsplash. Check the photographer’s guidelines and attribution requirements. I use photos from Pixabay, but never anything with people in them. The free sites don’t secure model releases.
    More often than not though, I buy my photos from Deposit Photos. Right now you can buy 100 for 39 dollars going through AppSumo. They don’t expire, and you know you’re safe using a photo from there. Click here for the deal. If you don’t have a Deposit Photo account, you’ll need to create one to redeem the deal. (The link is David Gaughran’s affiliate link. I used that because he was the one who posted it on Facebook where I first found out about it. If you don’t want to use it, Google for the deal and find a separate link for the promo.) I’ve redeemed a couple of these AppSumo deals and now I have 300 downloads that will never expire.
  2. This goes for fonts, too.
    It doesn’t matter if you Google free for commercial use fonts, or if a font is free for downloading. You still have to do your due diligence and make sure the fonts you use, especially on your book covers, are available for commercial use. There are a lot of free for commercial use sites out there, but artists who want their fonts to be used for personal use only also list their fonts on these sites. InkyDeals and Dealjumbo have font bundles that are inexpensive and you can use the fonts for more than one project (although always make sure of the extended license before buying). Bookmark these sites because they give you lots of good deals around the holidays, too.
  3. Be careful if you hire someone on Fiverr. 
    If you hire someone on Fiverr, make sure you know where they purchased the photos and fonts. It never hurts have the licenses for your records so if you are ever approached you can defend yourself. I’ve heard lots of stories about artists stealing art or using photos that aren’t available for commercial use. When you hire someone, you are taking the responsibility that they are on the up-and-up. After all, it’s your name on the book, not theirs.
  4. This goes for hiring anyone, anywhere.
    So many premade book cover websites offer a free photo with font slapped on there for the title and author name. Anyone can start a “business” doing that, and even if they have some skill with Photoshop, that doesn’t mean they have a legitimate business. Always cover your butt and make sure you know where the photos, elements, and fonts came from.
  5. Offer attribution even if the photographer or artist says it’s not necessary. 
    I always put the photographer’s id and photo id in the copyright page of all my

    Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 12.02.59 PM

    It’s easy to offer attribution in your front matter. It’s professional, and not to mention, kind. 

    books. I credit Deposit Photo as the source, and credit Canva as the website where I made the cover in the first place. It’s the polite thing to do. In the acknowledgments always credit anyone else who has helped you. I listened to a podcast by the SPA Girls and they interviewed Rebekah Haskell, and she said it was common for authors not to offer attribution to their cover designer because they wanted to keep the designer for themselves so they didn’t get too busy. That sucks, and it’s selfish. This is a professional business. Act professionally. (If you want to listen to the podcast, Rebekah offers good info about book cover design click here.) Do you see what I did there? Offer attribution.

In the end, it’s not hard to safeguard your business. It might take a little money (buying stock photos isn’t always cheap and I think that’s why free photos offer such an allure) but I would rather spend for a pack of stock photos on Deposit Photo, or buy credits on CanStock Photo and cover my butt instead of having trouble down the road because I used something that wasn’t available for commercial use.

I don’t know what the woman I was speaking with today will do. I feel bad that it seemed like I was telling her information that scared her, but not knowing what you don’t know can be dangerous in this business. We all make mistakes, and there’s a chance that nothing will come out of it if you happen to use a free photo with a person on it that doesn’t have a model release, but why take the chance? Pixabay won’t cover you if a photographer goes after you for damages. Especially, if by chance, your book does really well.

I recommend Facebook groups like the Indie Cover Project and Book Cover Design Marketplace. The admins and moderators don’t let fishy people post, and they seem to know what’s/who’s legit and what/who is not.

Canva and BookBrush are only machines–if you use them without knowing, you, the operator, will definitely be held accountable.

Take care, and stay safe!


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