Recently I had a question from a reader about services like Canva to create book cover art and who owns the copyright in that art. 

In short, it depends if you use existing content to create your cover or modify the existing content to create the cover and the license terms to use that content.  Check the licensed rights to make sure you can use the existing content or modify it to create book covers.  Often there are levels of service (e.g., free vs. paid) that dictate the extent of limitations in using the content.  Some content may have prohibitive terms that prevent you from resale and distribution. 

Here are a couple of links to Canva that explain their content licenses and limitations on using content for commercial purposes (Content License Agreement and Commercial Uses). 

Typically, if you use existing content, the copyright will stay with the service you’ve used, and the license will dictate how you can use the copyright.  

If you modify existing content, you have created derivative work. You won’t own the copyright in the underlying work you used, but you will own the copyright in the derivative work you created. Make sure the license in the existing content you are using allows you to create a derivative work, i.e., the book cover art. For example, see this link for Canva’s one design use license agreements and derivative works. You can then register the copyright right for your book cover as a derivative copyright when you register the copyright for your book.  

See my previous articles about derivative copyrights and cover art if you need more information. In particular with derivative copyrights, here are a few points from the article:

  1. The new copyright in the derivative work will not affect the copyright status, scope, or duration of the copyright held in the preexisting work.
  2. The new copyright will not imply any rights in the preexisting material unless permission has been granted to create the derivate work.
  3. Derivative copyright will not extend to any preexisting material like previously published or registered works or works in the public domain. This means that copyright right law does not allow you to extend the length of a copyright in pre-existing material just by creating a derivative work.
  4. You can register a copyright claim in a derivative work online through the U.S. Copyright Registration Portal, where you will be required to provide information regarding the previous registration of the preexisting material used in creating the derivative, the year the new work was created, and a description of the new material added to the derivative work. See US Copyright Office Circular 14 for more information on the filing process.

Photo Credit:    uribelo | Visualhunt.com

Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

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