Do Book Covers Fall Under Fair Use?

Whether or not a book cover falls under fair use is a common question. Most people do not realize that the publisher typically holds the book cover’s copyright, not the author’s.

You can use a book cover if you are giving a review of the book. Authors, publishers, and cover artists typically love the exposure, and you are not violating copyright laws. Other provisions are considered fair use, such as educational use and for the purpose of parody.

If you are creating over the work of others, you must seek a license or permission. If you would like to understand more concerning book covers and fair use, check out this informative article.

What Is Fair Use?

The rule of fair use lets you use images in specific contexts without permission from the original creator. There are situations in which fair use is acceptable. It is a matter of considering what is “legally” fair to the copyright holder.

The following include some of these uses:

  • Criticism and commentary Reviewing or commenting on someone else’s work for the purpose of criticism or commenting. A person giving a book review would be allowed to see excerpts from the book.
  • Research and scholarship Using quotes in a research paper for class or technical work to illustrate an author’s conclusions. A professor’s choice to make a copy of an article from a copyrighted periodical for reference is acceptable.
  • Non-profit or educational use A teacher uses excerpts from portions of written work for educational purposes—student review of a literary work, which enables them to use copyrighted work.
  • News reporting Short written extracts or clips from video footage to report current events. The utilization of various sources to create a report for a newspaper. The use of excerpts from books or online articles to make copies.
  • Parody Making fun of someone else’s work is typically well-known. A good example is a Weird Al Yankovic song that mimics the original song for the purpose of parody.   

Book covers are copyrighted. However, they also fall under the fair use category because you can give commentary or criticism of a book. There are certain situations where using a book cover does not fall under fair use, such as using the book cover to create the cover for your own book and violating copyright laws.

Who Holds the Copyright for the Cover of a Book?

It is typical for the publisher to own the rights to the cover of a book. Cover art is made by an artist, which generally the publisher hires, only if the contract with the publisher includes the copyright to the book cover that an author can claim as their own.

Sometimes an independent artist who does not work for the publisher comes in, and the contract determines who owns the copyright to the book cover. Usually, the artist owns the copyright, but the publisher obtains a license to use it.

It is a bit tricky because while the author retains the copyright to the book, they do not have the copyright to the book cover. 

When a traditional publishing contract ends, and the rights are given to the author of the book, the cover of the book is not part of the package. When an author switches to publishers or self-publishes, it requires the production of new cover art. 

What Is a Violation of Copyright?

Again, when you review a book, it is fair use to use the book cover. However, you cannot reproduce the book cover in any way. Publishing the book cover on your blog is a violation of copyright.

You cannot use copyright-protected work and claim it as your own. However, you will not likely be sued for copyright infringement. Authors and publishers like to see their work put out there, especially if it is not being criticized.

Book covers encourage the sale of the book, and using book covers for reviews does not go against copyright law. A review with a picture of the book cover on display basically advertises the book, whether the review is positive or negative. If you are worried, you can seek approval for use from the copyright holder, but it is unnecessary.

What Do You Need to Take Into Consideration?

The essential factor in determining copyright infringement is how you used the material involved.

You must establish whether you are copying the original work of the publisher or author or creating an authentic, fresh piece. You cannot use another person’s work to compete with them by copying or plagiarizing their work.


The cover of a book has special protection, which is separate from the writing inside the book. Book covers only fall under fair use if they are being used in a book review or for educational purposes. The publisher usually owns the copyright to the book cover. As a general rule, you never want to steal someone else’s work and take the credit because you do not want to experience the same fate.