What Images Can You Use in Your Self-Publish Book: An Essential Guide

When writing a non-fiction book, you may occasionally need to showcase images to ensure your reader completely comprehends the context, topic, or arguments you are making.

For instance, you may wish to add a photo of the piece of equipment you’re discussing or the person you’re referencing. In many scenarios, all the words in the world just can’t convey what a single image or illustration could.

However, before you can include a particular image content in your book, you must ensure you have permission or rights to do so.

If you’re wondering what illustrations, artwork, or photos you can legally use in your book, then this article is for you.

First, let’s debunk some common misconceptions about using an image for a book

Images, illustrations, and artwork inside a book (or on the cover) are issues that can sometimes get a little sticky. Every so often, these inclusions can catch authors off guard in the process of publishing their books.


Firstly, the issue of what rights you have for visual content is not as clean or as simple as you might like or think.

Some people think that if they get an image off the internet, it’s okay to publish it in their book. Most authors also believe that buying a stock image from a site like iPhoto, Shutterstock, or Pixabay means they can use that image in whatever way they want.

None of this is actually true.

At times, even being the creator of the image doesn’t always guarantee you have the rights to put it in your book.

Now, of course, this is not meant to constitute legal advice because I’m not a lawyer. I’m a Canadian who did an MBA in real estate and finance. So ensure to consult a copyright attorney should you have concerns over something you want to publish.

That said, here are some things to know before you include an image in your book

Can I just copy someone else’s illustration or artwork for my book?

If you’re the creator of the artwork or illustration, you can use it in whatever way you want. You have the copyright. If it’s entirely your original concept and not a copy of someone else’s, you’re fine.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that even if you edited or drew the image yourself, if you’re simply using what someone else has created, you still risk running into a copyright issue.

For instance, if you read Brandi Olson’s book “Real Flow,” and you see these super cool illustrations in her book that she had created, you can’t just sit down, hand draw your own versions, and say they’re yours.

Another crucial thing to remember is that you can’t automatically assume the creator is the rights holder because that isn’t always the case.

Even if someone else is the image creator, you might still have to figure out who holds the copyright to that image. This is true whether it is a custom-designed image, an artwork, or a photograph. It can help to have a team on your side helping you source these rights and permissions … we do that at Book Launchers if you want our full-service self-publishing team to be on your team!

What photograph images can I (or can’t I) include in my book?

Generally speaking, the photos you take are yours to use. However, this isn’t always the case. It entirely depends on what is in the photograph.

When it comes to photos you take, of course, if you take a photo of something copyright protected, that doesn’t give you the right to use that photo just because you took it. If the image is in the public domain, like many of the works of classic artists, then you’re probably okay.

What should I consider before using photographs of buildings?

Architecture is copyright protected, but only to a point because it’s in the public domain. Blueprints, though, have a lot more protection than the building itself.

But if you’re taking a photo of an interior space, you might need permission from the copyright holder, who is likely to be the owner of the building—or the architect themselves if they’re famous.

Pictures of buildings, even if they are copyright protected, are probably okay as long as you took the photo while out in a public space, so it’s something anyone could have seen or taken.

Can I use pictures of logos or brand names without permission?

Now, here’s a fun one: taking a photo of trademarks, or even just using a trademarked logo like Starbucks’ logo or the Nike Swoosh.

Trademark law is actually less strict than copyright law. So if you’re using it in a way that couldn’t confuse the reader into thinking that there’s an association between your book and that company, then you’re likely okay.

Often, a simple way to handle this is to include a disclaimer saying you’re not associated with this trademark holder. This is why you see television shows where there’s a logo blurred on a T-shirt or a hat. They want to avoid any trademark issues so they blur the logo out.

Can I freely include photographs of famous people in my book

If you’ve taken a photo of a celebrity or a public figure, you own the rights to that photo. If you took that photo in a public domain like a red carpet event or a political rally, you will likely not have any issues using that photo.

However, if you jumped a fence to take it, the subject of the photo could have a privacy claim against you. It’s not a copyright issue, but privacy does become THE issue, and many celebrities and politicians will bring privacy claims.

Chances are you’re not doing that to get the photos so you should be fine. Now, getting the permission of these public figures is always ideal, but not necessary.

What should I know about before using stock images for my book?

Many stock photo sites can be good sources of images for authors. However, even if you get an image from a website that allows you to have a license to use the image, make sure you know the rules of that usage.

Are you allowed to modify the image, for example, for use on your cover?

Some stock images can’t be used for commercial purposes and printing them in or on a book that will be sold counts as that. Others have a limit on the number of times they can be sold, while others require artist attribution.

You can see on the iStock Photo website as an example that you need an extended license if you’re going to have more than 500,000 copies printed or if you will be using the image on products you sell like a mug.

Final thoughts

Humans are visual beings. Using images to support your content conveys a deeper level of information and helps enhance your reader’s understanding. For this reason, images are definitely something you must leverage to improve your book.

Now that you have a greater understanding of the intricacies of including an image in your book, you’ll be able to handle this part of your author’s journey much better and without issues.

Note: It’s also worth remembering that If you hire someone to produce work for your book, make sure it’s clear in your contract that you are the copyright holder and that you are (or are not) giving attribution.

If you are ever unsure of anything, you can always consult a copyright permissions professional to get guidance on who the copyright holder is and whether you need permission or not.

Need more helpful content about using images in your book? This video right here talks about more nitty-gritty details about image considerations and how they will look in your book.

Book Launchers is a professional self-publishing services company that helps non-fiction authors write, publish, and of course, promote books that grow their brand and their businesses.

Book a call with us today and let’s discuss about your book.

Previous Post
Book Copyright Question? We Answer the 5 Most Common Questions