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Thursday Midday Links: What’s a Little Cover Art Copying Between Friends?

Author LK Rigel’s self published book, Spiderwork, has a gorgeous cover. So gorgeous that HarperCollins contacted the artist to purchase it from her. The artist refused. No matter, thinks HarperCollins.  (Updated: the cover art for Bewitching will now be changed)

LK Rigel Spiderwork

In an email, Nathalie Suellen, the artist, shared she was originally contacted by writer LK Rigel about the license for Suellen’s original artwork ‘City of Angels’ which was created in 2009.  The license was sold to Rigel and Rigel used it on her book  “Spiderwork.”  HarperCollins contacted the artist in May 2011.  The company offered her 4,000 dollars (a very normal value offered for cover art) but knew that the art had been sold to another author.

The artist refused because the cover art had already been used on a book and she didn’t think it was right for the same cover art to grace more than one book.   Suellen offered to create another image, including one with the same model but eventually the parties could not come to an agreement.  Suellen had no further contact with HC and thought the matter had been dropped.  (Read more at Suellen’s site)  Then the “Bewitching” cover appeared.  Suellen contacted HC and received no response.

I emailed HC and also have not yet received a response.

This is a debacle and it makes the author of “Bewitching” look sad. Witness her facebook page about the input she had on her cover (this entry has since been deleted but a page on her livejournal is still active).

Llike Kendra has that purple streak in her hair and the black lipstick because I said that she needed something to make it clear she wasn’t just a normal girl heading for the prom. And I suggested the crow. But no, authors do not design their covers.



Having said that, the cover of Katie MacAlister’s book appeared to be lifted from a photograph and hasn’t been changed. Donna Ricci posted an overlay of the cover on top of the photograph to show the similarities.

katiemacalister steamed


Then there is this cover art from Dreamspinner Press (and here is a link to an overlay):

Warriors Cross

I’m not very familiar with art and copyright.  Recently there was a lawsuit by tattoo artist who sued Warner Brothers for the unlawful copying of the tattoo design created specifically for Mike Tyson.  It may well be that all these covers are within the rules of copyright because they aren’t actual copies, but pieces inspired by the original.  If it was the written word, I think most people would call this plagiarism.   The question is whether publishers want to blur the lines for cover art that seem to be sacrosanct for the written word.

Hopefully HarperCollins and their amazing art department will come up with something original and honor the artist’s original refusal.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Jill Myles
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:05:06

    My husband is an artist, and there’s something very prevalent in comics and freelance art that’s called ‘lightboxing’. Basically that you take a photo as inspiration and use a lightbox underneath the photo to trace over and use a lot of the same linework/posing. I think there’s a Marvel artist that uses adult film stills for his art? Can’t recall his name.

    At any rate, it’s pretty common in the art world, but it’s not always smiled upon, because at what point is the art infringement or is it just inspired by?

    (This reminds me of the Tor lawsuit a few years back with Dita Von Teese’s face. Anyone remember that?)

  2. M A
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:07:10

    I feel badly for Alex Flinn. The cover art for the Rigel novel clearly enjoys a deeper level of emotional investment from the artist. It’s like the difference between a fine designer handbag and a cheesy knockoff.

  3. Meljean
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:13:50

    @Jill Myles: Oh, Greg Land. His art used to be so good until every X-Woman began sporting an ‘O’ face.

  4. Ros
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:29:39

    I think there’s something about ‘transformative works’ which allows some of this sort of thing. I have no idea, however, how much transformation there has to be. The Warrior’s Cross image seems to me to be in most danger of infringing copyright. The middle one, because of the complete change of style as well as other changes, I’d think would be fine, as would the first – it’s ‘inspired by’ but it’s not the same piece of work. Not nearly as good as the original, though.

    It strikes me that it’s a bit similar to the difference between plots (non-copyrightable) and words (copyrightable). Ideas, composition, poses etc. can’t be copyrightable, but the expression of them in an actual piece of art is.

  5. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:47:41

    I’m sure Alex Flinn didn’t know where the art came from – although the bird reference is strange.

    Knowing the amount Nathalia turned down makes me admire her even more. I assure you I paid far less to license the image.

    I love Spiderwork’s cover, and it makes me sick and sad to think of it on another book. If this stands, then I suppose Harper Collins will have established a precedent. They’re letting us know that self-publishers – and big publishers, for that matter – can just copy the covers of their books, with tweaks, from now on.

  6. Patrice
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:50:15

    It seems to me I have seen this pose, back view of dramatic sweep of a dress, on a lot of books recently. That does not in any way excuse Harper Collins from so flagrantly copying this artwork, especially after they had contacted the artist about it! BTW I had never heard of this author but went and checked out her site. Wow! I may just have to buy some LK Reigel! :)

  7. bob simms
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:52:37

    Regardless of the legalities, it is pretty low ethically. How can publishing houses complain about epublishing threatening inetellectual property rights when they do this sort of thing?

  8. library addict
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:54:04

    I think the first two examples are more blatent. In the case of Spiderwork/Bewitching it’s not just the model’s pose and dress, but the cloudy sky, the buildings, and the bird. It has all of the same elements as the original cover.

    The cover for Warrior’s Cross is more generic IMO. It’s just a guy in a suit with his shirt collar undone carrying a gun. There’s nothing remarkable about the image to me and reminds me of a dozen other covers (though usually it’s a shirtless guy carrying a gun) or movie posters.

  9. Nathalia Suellen
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:56:01

    Thanks for the opportunity to spread out what happened with me. I feel like my hands are tied. But this article and all the supporting is already a big relief. Thank you so much.

  10. Shannon Stacey
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 10:58:03

    I agree with library addict. The third’s just a guy in a suit with a gun. I’m not sure what the problem is with that one.

    Sadly, the Spiderwork and Bewitching covers are just different enough that it would probably take a gazillion dollars to fight HC using it. It’s probably no consolation, but the Spiderwork cover is stunning and HC lost that in the copying.

  11. Carin
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:08:35

    I have no idea if lawsuit would be worth the time and money. I can only hope that this publicity will be a boost for the original artist and author. That’s a gorgeous cover!

  12. Nadia Lee
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:14:03

    What Shannon & library addict said.

  13. minnchica
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:18:08

    For the second and third examples, I don’t necessarily see a problem. The man in a suit is just that.. a man in a suit that could be anyone. And to my knowledge, MANY authors use photographs to get their inspiration. Yes the steampunk cover is VERY similar, but it is also unique. We interviewed Don Dos Santos at The Book Pushers who said he takes pictures and works off of those (granted they are his own pictures and models).

    The first example is… WOW. The original cover is absolutely stunning and incredible. HC could have definitely tweaked a few details to make their cover a little more unique, too bad they seemed to do a copy and paste. :(

  14. Jane
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:21:50

    I can’t do an overlay but the third one is the most egregious for me. The same folds in the suit. The same color contrast. The gun is the same long handled gun with some old emblem photoshopped on and the hands are the same. It’s got brush strokes to make it seem more original, but if any of them look like a copy (rather than an inspiration) it is the last one.

  15. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:22:50

    The question here is not whether there are differences. It’s whether there’s substantial similarity between the images. This is a case where you can actually prove that Harper Collins had access, and so what you have to prove is that they’ve copied enough of the image to count as misappropriation.

    In this case, this is a question of comprehensive non-literal similarity: did they copy so much of the structure and design of the work that they were effectively not only taking the idea (girl in dress with faded city in background and bird) but also the execution of the idea?

    It’s a jury question, but if I were on the jury, I’d think that this is a case of copyright infringement. Clearly. And I’d be pissed.

  16. Jim
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:25:50

    How does this make Alex Flinn look sad? No matter how much input she had on the cover, it’s not like she created it. And ethical or not, you can’t copyright an idea, and the artwork while directly recreated from the original, is all new. It’s a different version of the same image. It is wholly legal unless you want to make the argument that it’s cutting into sales of Rigel’s book because people may confuse one for the other which I can’t imagine. Rigel and Suellen are going to be the ones who benefit the most from this dust-up because of all the free press.

    Regardless, taking time to snark on Flinn is ridiculous since I’m sure you’re well aware of how little impact authors have on their covers, no matter how much “input” they share.

  17. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:31:00

    @Jane: Yes, I agree–but knowing nothing about the history in that piece, I don’t know that I’d use the word “egregious.”

    It could very well be that the artist bought rights to the photograph, and used photoshop to alter it with painterly effects.

    In which case that’s all good–the image is properly licensed, and so there’s no problem.

  18. Jane
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:32:45

    @Courtney Milan: Given that it is Daniel Craig and a promotional picture from a James Bond movie, I can’t see the artist being able to purchase the rights to the photograph, but perhaps you are correct.

  19. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:36:06

    @Jane: Ah, see, that’s the history I didn’t know. You’re using words like “Daniel Craig” and “James Bond” and those are things that rarely enter into my vocabulary. Chances of my recognizing an actual actor, other than Richard Armitage, especially in a James Bond film, are zero.

    I’d have to see an overlay to convince me.

    And then, if I were the artist, I’d hope that I’d saved my work in several drafts so that I could prove the method of creation. But if she did take that photo and alter it…eek.

  20. Amber
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:42:38

    The first set of covers is the one that makes me see red. Not just because they took an original piece of art and stripped everything wonderful from it for a generic cover, but because they were essentially giving a big middle finger to the original artist who refused to allow HC to use her work.

    Artists use photographic references all of the time, so finding similar elements in the last two sets of images isn’t so surprising. It is surprising that they didn’t seem to use more than *one* photo as reference, which seems to be more copying and less art.

  21. Kristi
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:52:10

    Spiderwork’s cover is far more beautiful than the Bewitched one. Alas for Alex Flinn, her cover looks like a knockoff of the other book. I doubt it was a copy of the original art–the models are different, the dress is different, their pose is different, the background is different. The original artist created a beautiful work and should be flattered by the imitation (pissed, but flattered).

    My vague memory from long-ago painting classes was that it was OK to use art in a different media as inspiration. E.g. I would take a calendar photo and then paint it in oils. Or set up a still-life including vases or what-not, and paint them. What was not OK was to take an oil painting and paint another just like it (that is copyright infringement, or outright forgery). So the steampunk cover is fine (ideally, the artist purchased at least one legal copy of the original photo first to work from and didn’t just download, but I’m not a lawyer to have a true legal opinion if they didn’t do that).

  22. Maili
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 11:55:04

    @library addict:

    The cover for Warrior’s Cross is more generic IMO. It’s just a guy in a suit with his shirt collar undone carrying a gun. There’s nothing remarkable about the image to me and reminds me of a dozen other covers (though usually it’s a shirtless guy carrying a gun) or movie posters.

    A guy with a gun is indeed generic, but if it’s distinctive enough for one to recognise a source, it’s potentially problematic.

    Obviously, in this case, it’s distinctive enough for one to recognise it’s lifted from a promo photo, which is actually copyrighted to Danjaq LLC, United Artists Corporation and Columbia Pictures Industries. The artist of that cover didn’t do enough to make it less distinctive. Not enough to make it his or her own, anyway.

    IMO, it’s fine to use a photo you don’t own as a reference, but to trace it that much–style, expression and all? A bit dodgy. Most times it’s “Tsk tsk”, then turn a blind eye.

    It, however, becomes a serious legal issue if it confuses casual eyes into believing it’s a work of the original creator or approved/endorsed by a copyright holder. Notoriously hard to prove, though.

  23. M A
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:03:46

    @Amber: I agree with your sentiment, Amber. The publisher is demonstrating its contempt towards the artistic community in general. Not only is their cheesy knockoff of Suellen’s work disrespectful to Suellen, it’s insulting to Alex Flinn, too. It suggests the people or persons responsible for providing cover art to represent Flinn’s novel don’t feel Flinn merits sufficient originality and uniqueness in her cover art.

    We all know cover art is a promotional tool for a book. Packaging, window dressing, eye candy, whatever one chooses to call it. It’s pretty tacky for the publisher to just throw together an artistically inferior copy of Suellen’s work already sold as cover art for another book to serve as Flinn’s cover.

  24. T
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:06:41

    The first, second and third examples are all very different things on terms of copyright.

    I don´t know much about copyright of images, but I do know a little about copyright of photos. There are at least several types of image usage – reproduction, commercial and derivative. For a book copy I guess you need to have commercial and derivative rights to any images used and processed, either explicitly or if the copyright holder has licensed it under some sort of creative commons.

    First example is about using the *idea*, the concept – it´s a copy of an idea, concept, but where all the details are slightly different (the original one is better, the second seems more commercial). No pixels will match. It is IMO shocking morally and the only example where the similarity is very flagrant. BUT, and check this with somebody more uptodate on copyright, it is not necessarily ilegal. You can not copyright pose, composition, even ideas for a painting or photograph Copying ideas is usually legal – unless it infringes on trademarks or patents.

    The second example, it seems like somebody was inspired by that photo and created some artwork on it, but it does not seem to match so much – if drawn or traced over a photo. It all depends on original rights of the photography and if it is considered derivative work – and it might not be. Copying a pose and details from clothing, well, maybe not.

    The third one, help me outhere, you mean that the cover is meant to be the Daniel Craig on the right, after a LOT of photoshop? (pose seems different, angle sleeve, shirt)It was not at all obvious to me. I would have to see a pixel match to be sure, but that is one case diametrically different to the first, it is not particularly shocking similarity but might well be ilegal, if it is a process of the Daniel Craig photo, and the artist had no right to do commercial derivative works on it.

  25. Maili
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:11:21

    @Courtney Milan:

    I’d have to see an overlay to convince me.

    And then, if I were the artist, I’d hope that I’d saved my work in several drafts so that I could prove the method of creation. But if she did take that photo and alter it…eek.

    To my eye, there are too many similarities to deny that the source is the third on the right in photo. My guess? The artist painted an overlay of the photo in, probably, Illustrator and added a medallion, a shirt collar tip, a finger tip and legs. This method is the fastest way to create an illustration. No need to pencil in a trace. The artist has a great eye for colour, I’ll give him or her that. :D

  26. Jaci Burton
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:16:26

    Suellen’s artwork on Rigel’s book is stunning. The other is a blatant copy in my opinion. Sad for Rigel and for Flinn, who should have been given an original cover. Unless Flinn said “Hey, give me that exact cover”. I can’t imagine any author wanting an exact copy of someone else’s cover, though. I’m going to assume this was the publisher’s idea. I could be wrong.

    Warrior’s Cross looks way too much like Bond, James Bond down to the gun. The middle one looks like an artist interpretation of a photo. Which I think is acceptable, but what do I know? I just write books. Art isn’t my area of expertise, other than to drool over when it’s awesome. Like the Spiderwork cover.

  27. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:22:01

    @Maili: Oh, I don’t doubt I could be convinced. I just don’t think my eye is trained enough to know for sure.

  28. Annabel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:23:29

    I would just like to give my sympathy and support to Suellen and Rigel. I hope heads roll.

    On another subject I would also like to testify that Daniel Craig is the hottest man alive.

  29. Nathalia Suellen
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:44:52

    I like how Amber says about this case.

    So far I’m not sure if someone can copyright an idea. I don’t know how to fight about it. But what really make me sad is the way the company is dealing with artists and how they are dishonest. They think they can steal with impunity. I mean, was it a revenge? It’s my right not accept a proposal, doesn’t matter how much they are offering.

  30. Annabel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:52:09

    @Nathalia Suellen, it just seems to me that–even if you wouldn’t sell them the artwork–that you are due some recompense for your idea they OBVIOUSLY copied.

    You see to be handling this with such grace. I would be so livid and honestly I would wish I had just taken the $4000 if they were going to copy my work anyway.

    I am so sad for you and so disgusted by HarperCollins. Fie fie fie on them.

  31. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:52:56

    @Courtney Milan

    You’re using words like “Daniel Craig” and “James Bond” and those are things that rarely enter into my vocabulary.

    “James Bond” didn’t enter my vocabulary until “Daniel Craig” did.

  32. Anne Victory
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:01:05

    What makes it even more shameful, in my opinion, was this post from the artist over on GoodReads:

    “In September 2010, the writter LK RIGEL contact me about the licence of my artwork “City of Angels”. The licence was sold to her and now she is using it in her book “Spiderwork”.

    Some months later, to more exactly May 2011, Sasha Illingworth from Harper Collins contacted me, asking if I were interested in creating a cover to Bewitched.

    Going straight to the point, I refused the work. The reasons were quite simple:

    When she said she were interested in buy “City of Angels” she already knew the art was sold to another author. Sasha asked if even so were possible to buy the image and right after asked some informations about LK RIGEL such as (nationatity, book section). I immediately refused her proposal because I really don’t think it’s nice to have books with the same cover or something too similar. Doesn’t matter if it’s a big company or a self publisher. ”
    Goodreads thread

  33. Adrienne Wilder
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:02:31

    I am an artist, and like most artists, I am too poor to hire models. So yes, when I see photos of poses that I like, I may very well borrow those poses and use them in my work. It doesn’t mean I don’t spend a hundred hours or more painting it.

    Using a photo (or even another person’s work isn’t plagiarism, theft, etc, the person isn’t taking the photo and claiming it as their own, they are using the photo or in some cases, live model as inspiration. What an artist does, is no different than what a writer does. A writer reads a book about vampires, then decides they are going to write their own version of vampires. Same elements different outcomes (hopefully).

    The two covers (first listed) look alike. They have a similar background, it’s obvious one inspired the other, but it’s not stolen. And no I don’t blame the original artist for being hurt by having their idea used, but at the same time, there is nothing wrong with it either.

    If you got together every cover ever made out there, you would see many of the same poses (especially in romance novels) many of the same text style used, and many of the same color schemes, even background elements.
    Like two writers who write stories about werewolves or vampires, there will be similar elements, but in the end the product is unique. Two artists who are inspired by the same photo, will not create the same product, each work, although again with similar elements, is unique.
    Ideas and concepts can’t be copyrighted, if they could, then we would be in a boat load of trouble. We’d only have one designer for jeans, one designer for cars, one designer for computers. And writers would be out of things to write about. Unless they can come up with something that doesn’t involve man against man, man against nature, or man against himself.
    The core of any story, no matter the genre or the content.
    Just my 2 cents.

    Also in art, it is not “illegal” to copy another painting, even stroke for stroke (many of us learn, in by copying the greats, we are taught too in college). As long as you don’t try to pass it off as the original. Basically, if I “paint” the Mona Lisa and it looks exactly like Da Vinci’s as long as I sign MY name too it, I’m not making a counterfeit, it’s simply a reproduction.

  34. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:10:12

    Mojo – snap!

  35. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:26:52

    Anne, that creeps me out a little about wanting to know my nationality.

  36. Nick Gibson
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:30:15

    Adrienne Wilder – you may be an artist, but it is obvious you know nothing about law. Look into Substantial Similarity

  37. kara-karina
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:31:49

    I did think of Spiderwork as soon as I saw Bewitching few days ago, but didn’t say anything not knowing the context. If it’s any consolation Spiderwork cover is far more superior and beautiful and at least this story will make the book and the artist more known to general public. What about the covers of Shifting and Beautiful Evil where an exact image has been used? I just don’t uderstand why would a publisher do it? There are plenty of artists who can design original covers…

  38. LG
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:38:29

    @Adrienne Wilder: With the disclaimer that I don’t actually know much about how copyright law applies to artwork, I’d have to agree. I don’t see anything here that, to me, says outright copying, not even among the first two covers. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen blog posts that arrange a bunch of covers with similar poses, general compositions, etc. It doesn’t mean that any of them were copies off of the other. It means that, just like there are certain fads in writing, there are fads in cover art. Yes, it’s kind of embarrassing when it’s laid out so that the fads are made painfully, clear. but none of these look to me like a picture or photograph was, say, dropped into photoshop and colorized or put through a few filters, which I think would be a more serious issue.

  39. Isobel Carr
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:50:05

    When someone tries to buy something, gets told no, and then produces something that imitates every element of the original, that’s copying, plain and simple. I don’t see how anyone could deny it.

    @Nathalia: Your gallery is AMAZING! Publishers should be beating down your door. If I was writing paranormals, I’d be pointing my editor at you. As it is, if you were selling prints, I’d be broke. My inner Goth Girl is in LOVE with your stuff (esp Restless).

  40. Adrienne Wilder
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:50:58

    No, I’m not a lawyer by any leaps or bounds. But honestly, if it were that easy to claim substantial similarity on art, don’t you think Cambell’s soup would have sued Andy Worhol?

    I’m not saying the writer, the artist, or anyone is wrong to feel infringed on…but it doesn’t change the fact if an idea could only be done once, we’d be in trouble (artist, writer etc)

  41. May
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:53:13

    the ICK to me is on #1, that HC contacted the artist, wanted to work with her, and when she wouldn’t they did their own version of her art. That they wanted it and did whatever they had to do to get it – that is skeevy.

    Legal? I don’t pretend to know that – but it’s just ick.

  42. Mischa
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:54:06

    HC wanted the original but couldn’t get it so they created their own version using the same general idea. I’m sorry, but as much as people want to own ideas these days, you can’t copyright them.

    I don’t really understand why the artist is upset. HC hasn’t taken anything away from her, if anything they have given her more exposure. Anyone looking at both can see that Nathalie Suellen’s work is much higher quality.

  43. Jane
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 13:56:34

    @Adrienne Wilder: Fair Use.

  44. Jessica
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 14:28:39

    I love this topic!

    I made a series of Tweets about this issue last night, where I basically said way-too-similar covers are a little boring when you expect something fresh, but I’m not seeing the controversy.

    In the case of the first cover, I think the worst part is HarperCollins knew the artist was committed to the project she had been doing artwork for so she turned them down and they didn’t take “No” for an answer. I would hope one of the Big Six companies would be more respectful than that, especially since I get the impression the artist had been working on her cover art long before HarperCollins and had every right to say no.

    However, it seems speculative fiction novels as a whole have way-too-similar covers. I don’t mean the same concepts done in unique ways; I mean similar cover models in similar positions in similar clothes in front of similar backgrounds. When I used to visit the bookstore frequently and spent time just looking at book covers, I was amazed that I couldn’t tell one book or series from another book or series without seeing an author name. I think the larger problem is, there’s not enough originality in book covers (and I say this knowing that some cover designers use stock photos and eventually those stock photos will be used by someone else).

  45. Lil
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 14:55:10

    The artist who invented “naked male torso with cropped head” should be furious. He’s been violated thousands of times.

  46. Janet P.
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 14:58:58

    I’m another who has no idea of the legalities but it sure does look smarmy to me to rip off an artist like that.

    My gut reaction is that if the cover art department over at Harper Collins is so piss poor at being creative, maybe they should just hire Nathalia Suellen at a couple hundred k a year consulting position or something. Cripes.

    And that author claiming that she suggested they add in the crow? Did she perhaps mean they should “Add the Crow Back In – To Make it More Like the Cover We’re Stealing From?”

  47. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:01:18

    @Lil lol!

    Except that “naked male torso” is available as stock, and the authors/publishers who use the images have paid for the stock – at stock prices.

  48. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:18:15

    It looks like the HC cover is being removed from Goodreads. A good sign?

  49. Courtney
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:27:37

    Shame, shame, shame on HarperCollins all around. And I feel bad, honestly, for the author if she had no idea about it. It’s not clear to me if she knew HC had approached the artist, was turned down, and then copied it for her cover.

  50. Robin Nuttall
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:31:04

    As a graphic designer, I DO have an idea about copyright. And it’s actually very simple. Derivative works done without permission are copyright violations. A work is copyrighted to the creator of that work upon creation. That copyright stays with the creator unless expressly signed over to another person or entity (i.e, rights signed over to HC in this case). And, importantly, copyright also covers derivative materials. From the copyright page (

    “How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?” “Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent. See Circular 14, Copyright Registration for Derivative Works.”

    “To be copyrightable, a derivative work must differ sufficiently from the original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new
    material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify a work as a new version for copyright purposes.”


    “The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the work. It does not extend to any preexisting material and does not imply a copyright in that material.”

    As I have always understood it, a work which doesn’t differ enough from the original in that the original work can still be easily recognized/seen can be a violation of copyright. In other words, if you can still recognize it and see the original work below it, then the original creator should have given permission to use the original, and if not, it’s a copyright violation.

  51. LG
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:47:24

    @Robin Nuttall: Even with all of that, though, I’m still not clear on whether any of these would actually count as copyright violations. For instance, in this bit that you quoted:

    “Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify a work as a new version for copyright purposes.”

    How is “minor” defined? The covers on Rigel and Flinn’s books have a similar setup, but I see things that I wouldn’t consider minor changes. With the cover for Steamed, the main problem I see there is that both the pose and that prop, whatever it is, in her left hand are all copied from the photo, but there are lots of other changes to the look and design. Would all of those things add up to major differences, or would they be considered minor? The cover for Warrior’s Cross may be a combination of aspects of the different poses in the James Bond image, but, as far as I can see, it’s not an exact copy of any one of the poses. Still, does that count only as a minor difference?

  52. Saundra
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:52:04

    On my last book, I got 7 comps, with variations as minute as “This one has a cloud and this one doesn’t.” I ended up picking one that was exactly the same as another except for the way they cropped the photo.

    So regarding Alex Flinn’s comments on the cover- her house no doubt showed her a bunch of comps. Some of them probably had birds, some probably didn’t. She no doubt said, “Black lips, purple hair streak; I like the one with the bird.”

    We have very little say over our own covers, and usually have no idea what’s going on until the house says, “Here’s your cover, hope you like it!” Blaming Alex Flinn for any of this is grossly unfair.

  53. P. Kirby
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:53:15

    Jane said: “I can’t do an overlay but the third one is the most egregious for me.”

    When I looked at the three examples, my initial impression of the third was, “Meh. It’s just a generic guy in a suit pose.” Looking at the overlay, however, it seems the cover artist copied the Daniel Craig photo and ran it through some filters, added some brushstrokes, etc. Consequently, on reflection, it looks like the most likely contender for some kind use infringement.

    That said, it’s obvious Harper Collins, when denied the Spiderwork cover (which is gorgeous), went for a cheap knockoff. Honestly, I’ve seen this pose on other covers, so I think it would be hard to call this copyright infringement. (I’m not legal expert, though.) Nonetheless, it’s an asshole move and I feel bad for Alex Flinn. Nathalia Suellen is clearly super-talented, and while I understand her frustration, this will ultimately send more business her way.

    The Katie McCallister cover appears to have been inspired by the Abney Park photo. But there are differences between the illustration and the photo, including clothing details and gesture/pose. I don’t think “inspired by” is synonymous with “copyright infringement.”

    I’m a artist, btw, I totally understand Ms. Suellen’s anger. But unless you can easily demonstrate (as with the third cover, perhaps) that the imagery was directly lifted from your original work, winning in court is unlikely.

  54. Robin Nuttall
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:55:36

    @LG, I know what you mean but it’s pretty clearly defined in copyright. Basically, the rule of thumb to go by is that if it’s recognizable, i.e., if you can look at see/identify the original easily then it’s derivative.

    And to be clear, you can copyright derivative work but ONLY the changes, not the original. So let’s say you take a photo and make a painting of it, you can copyright the painting part but not the original photo; that is still held by the original photographer unless those rights are signed over to you. Does this help at all? There’s lots of info on it at the copyright site.

  55. LG
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 16:20:07

    @Robin Nuttall: Thanks, I think that does help.

    So, to my understanding then, the artist for the Steamed cover would have had to pay the person who took the photograph for the rights to use the pose (particularly since it includes that object in her left hand – otherwise, it would have to be proved that the artist hadn’t just had a very similar reference photo or model in that post).

    I keep waffling with the third cover, since it’s so generic – and yet the gun is held in the guy’s left hand.

    With Rigel and Flinn’s covers, I’m still not convinced that it’s copyright violation. They both have women facing in the general direction, they both have a black bird, and they both have a landscape with clouds and buildings – put like that, they sound the same, but none of the elements involved are anywhere near copies. Can the general composition (is that the right word?) be considered under copyright? If yes, then wouldn’t that mean that there are a lot of other covers that could potentially be considered copyright violations? Or is it just HarperCollins’ prior contact with Nathalie Suellen that makes this a potential legal problem?

  56. Robin Nuttall
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 16:43:46

    @LG keep in mind that I’m just an artist/designer, not a lawyer, so I’m sort of mulling along with you.

    To me all three covers are copyright infringement IF the original photographer or artist did not give permission, which we know in the Rigel cover is true. It’s not just composition. The overall color scheme. The pose. The dress shape and color. The crow. the buildings (though different). The Rigel cover would be, to me, the most ambiguous in terms of getting a conviction because of some differences, yet put them side by side and it is very obvious that the HC cover is using the Rigel cover as a base.

    In general, generic widely used poses/ideas can’t be copyrighted. Someone brought up over on the kindleboards the ubiquitous “man titty and six pack” covers seen in romance. There are a ton of them, and they are not derivative because it’s a generic widely used pose. However, each photographer of each of those lovely muscular men has a copyright on their photo. An author or publishing house can purchase a photo from that photographer for use on a cover. But unless the photographer signs over all rights, the copyright remains with the photographer. Though the author/publishing house can use that photo on the cover of that book, they can’t use it on another book, or give it to a friend to use on their book, without getting permission from the photographer and possibly paying for more usage. Purchase of a photo/piece of artwork does NOT automatically confer copyright. It only confers copyright if clearly specified in the contract all authors and artists should agree to and sign before doing work, to protect both parties in cases just like this.

  57. Diana Peterfreund
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:06:05

    A few months ago, a German fan emailed me a cover on a German book that looks exactly like my cover for Ascendant (a Harper Collins book), and even uses the stock-art sword I (non-exclusively) licensed for my self-published story, “Errant.” When she asked the German publisher about the similarity, they admitted they loved the Harper cover and copied it.

    I have been looking for the email (and her subsequent blog post) but I can’t find it.

    At the time my first paperback came out, there was another book on the shelves showing a spring-green sweater tied preppy style that WAS pure coincidence.

    The latter situation is not culpable — just one of those coincidences of styles colliding. But the former, where the publisher knew what they were doing, is annoying to the extreme. (And clearly, Harper can be stolen FROM, too.) I hope Finn gets a new cover.

  58. T
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:08:42

    Derivative work for (digital) photography usually implies using the same pixels, processing them – it can apply to making a t-shirt out of something, or printing bookmarks or editing some element into another photo. Using an idea to take a different similar photo with a few different elements, well, if any judge decided that to create jurisprudence, then many things would change. Doing a drawing from a photography (by hand, no electronic processing) changes the media, and AFAIK it is not copyright infringement to use that drawing. (By the way tracing comics can be trademark infringement, but trademark is something different from copyright. You can infringe on trademarks while creating your own art. It can also be infringement of copyright but that is another thing.)

    And headless man titty photos are not necessarily stock photos. And stock photos copyright transfer is bound by the same laws as for any photography, amateur or professional, it is only that stockphoto intermediary can and will make it obvious. And usually, for any photo sale, copyright transfer depends on the wording of the contract and what rights are being transferred.

    You can copyright some things (palettes, fonts) which are not obvious. But copyrighting a specific pose or idea for a photo shoot, as far as I know, no. Can anybody give concrete examples, if you think one can copyright a pose?

  59. Robin Nuttall
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:26:40

    T, I beg to differ based on these quotes directly from the U.S. Copyright site. However, keep in mind that copyright in the U.S. is not the same as copyright overseas (and I know nothing about overseas copyright laws).

    “To be copyrightable, a derivative work must differ sufficiently from the original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new
    material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify a work as a new version for copyright purposes.”


    “The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the work. It does not extend to any preexisting material and does not imply a copyright in that material.”


    How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?

    “Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent. See Circular 14, Copyright Registration for Derivative Works.”

    So, derivative work must differ significantly from the original work. And derivative copyright only applies to the changes, not to the original. And the original copyright holder must give permission for the derivative work.

  60. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:46:09

    The Bewitching cover will be changed. Alex Flinn just posted on her livejournal blog about it.

    A very gracious post, too.

    Thank you, Jane, for showcasing this issue.

  61. Janet P.
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:46:12

    Alex Flinn has posted on her Facebook page that the cover art for Bewitching will be changed.

  62. Jane
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:49:55

    @L.K. Rigel I’m glad that the cover will be changed but as for a gracious post ? Flinn suggests that “similarities happen” which is clearly not the case. That’s kind of an annoying post to read but I’m glad that it will be put behind you and Suellen.

  63. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:53:39

    Who can know what she knows? I think this is the best possible outcome. I also don’t think it would have happened without the light you shined on it.

  64. Jane
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 18:19:51

    @L.K. Rigel I think everyone’s combined efforts helped to make the change. I saw on your blog and on Suellen’s blog a number of people commenting that they had written to the publisher. It’s takes a community effort in these situations.

  65. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 18:26:22

    I agree with that. I am feeling a ton of gratitude right now.

  66. DS
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 18:30:24

    @LG: You might want to look at from Techdirt. I think the Judge was acknowledging that the issue of whether or not the video is infringing on the photographs is question of fact, but it seems to stir up a bit of discussion.

  67. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 18:33:07

    @L.K. Rigel: With all due respect to Alex Flinn, she can and should know everything that has been posted on the web regarding this situation. If it were my book, I would have Googled the topic to find out exactly what happened and how.

    The similarities between your cover and Bewitching’s clearly did not “just happen.” The sequence of events proves that HC liked Suellen’s art and wanted to use it; prevented some doing so, they chose to use it as a “template.” The similarities here are just not an accident, and that’s true whether or not they rise to the level of copyright infringement.

    That said, Ms. Flinn may be under some obligation to claim it was just an accident.

  68. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 18:41:12

    @Jackie – you’re right, but she’s in a tough situation too, and I think she handled it well. It’s the art director who seems to have made mistakes here.

    I’m just glad things worked out the way they did.

  69. M A
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 19:39:40


    @L.K. Rigel I think everyone’s combined efforts helped to make the change. I saw on your blog and on Suellen’s blog a number of people commenting that they had written to the publisher. It’s takes a community effort in these situations.

    Absolutely. Copyright infringement, legal or not, of any intellectual property should never be tolerated or condoned by ethically conscious individuals. Whether the perpetrator is a company, another artist, or a consumer, wrong is wrong.

    Congratulations to Suellen, Rigel, and Flinn. Suellen constructed a truly beautiful cover for Rigel’s work. Hopefully, Flinn’s story will receive a new cover reflecting the individuality of her storytelling.

    Also, thanks to HC for doing the right thing.

  70. GrowlyCub
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 21:17:52

    @Diana Peterfreund: I know nothing about your situation, but I remember from my early rom reading days that many of the translations had US covers, often different ones. Meaning cover A on book A might be on book B in Germany. Those were not copied, but licensed from the original publisher/artist as far as I remember.

  71. Nadia Lee
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 00:54:40

    @Jane: I think the author was being circumspect, given the situation. We can’t tell what she’s feeling or what’s been said between her, her agent and HC.

  72. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Epic Linkity of Epicness
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 02:02:35

    […] Smart Bitches highlights some cases of cover art copying. […]

  73. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 02:28:05

    @Jane: Agreed. I think it was a classy post in the sense that she tried to avoid any name-calling or finger-pointing. At the same time, the chain of events shows that it was clearly not happenstance. My husband’s comments when I told him about it this afternoon
    * “Those sneaky bastards.”
    and then when I told him about the Ms. Flinn’s blog post:
    * Oh, they’re changing it? Great! So, the crow’s going to be a dove, now?
    * That’s not a “coincidence” – that’s a “co-inky-dink.”

  74. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 02:33:57

    @Anne Victory: @Nadia Lee: Totally agree. She can hardly say her publisher did a bad, bad thing (on purpose, no less) without landing herself in a heap of trouble with them, and considering that they’re the hand that feeds her, so to speak, I don’t blame her for being very careful in her wording of her blog post. That fact that she said anything at all is a very stand-up thing for her to do, IMO.

  75. T
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 05:07:07

    #59, Robin, thank you for responding, but no, that is not clear to me how what you quote means that a pose or idea is a “work” and can be copyrighteable. You are just quoting definitions of derivative works (keep in mind the substantial might not be as substantial as one might think. Think of cases which often end up in court, mass market vs designer clothes for example.

    I think of the examples given on the original blog post, it applies only to the 3rd. Taking an idea from a photo, or photographing the same theme or drawing a pose and some details from a photo is not copyright infringement. Photographers´s copyright work is almost never understood or respected (almost nobody ever thinks twice about taking a photo “just” for a blog post), and it rankles personally. But it´s important for people to understand exactly what is copyright and not confuse it with plagy for example. And I think the concept that *ideas* can not be copyrighted is essential for our society.

    As an offshoot from a discussion, an interesting example of a case of copycat photography: tographer/2010/02/the-case-of-the-copycat-photographer.html photographic plagy – and keep in mind that us “only” plagy, not copyright infringement.

    About covers being used in other countries, please give poor photographers and designers a break – unless you bought worlwide exclusive rights to a cover, just the same as a manuscript can be sold for different markets (and consider current wtfery regarding ebooks markets rights) designers and photographers usually only sell the rights to a photo for one edition and one market and are free to sell, some extra money to other markets. It´s perfectly moral, if anybody wants worlwide exclusive rights, pay (more) for it, otherwise artist is free to sell again!

  76. Not a Good Week for Harper Collins - Cover Art Rip-Off | The Passive Voice
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 08:02:29

    […] Link to the rest at Dear Author […]

  77. Muneera N.
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 08:11:28

    I’m glad that the issue was taken care of by HC, although I’m a little shocked that they would try to pull something like this. LK Rigel and Nathalie Suellen, I love your cover!

  78. Veronica
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 08:16:28

    How is it “awkward” that author Flinn didn’t create the cover? Sounds pretty standard to me. The book is from a major publisher, and they have an art department that does the covers. The author, who is usually not an illustrator, may get to make some suggestions, but she doesn’t have to create the whole thing from scratch, which is great if she’s not herself an artist. Author, Rigel, gets to have complete control over her art . . . but she also gets the “fun” of promoting, editing, publicizing, and selling her own book. Sounds like a more-than-fair trade to me.

  79. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 08:47:58

    @Veronica: It’s not awkward that Flinn didn’t create the cover. What was awkward was Flinn saying that she suggested the crow (which she very well might have) when that same crow was like the crowning piece on the whole affair of ripping-off the original cover.

  80. Michael
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:16:57

    Animated overlay of the third one:

    After stretching the Daniel Craig picture slightly in the vertical to line up the sleeve, it becomes pretty evident that this shot contributed substantially to the Warrior’s Cross cover.

  81. Veronica
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:47:58

    Not really. I read her book, Beastly, which this book is a sequel to, and the character of Kendra shape-shifts into a crow. So, presumably, she wanted a crow on the book cover about Kendra. Maybe that’s what the publisher noticed about Nathalia’s art. Remember, the comment you’re quoting (about what input she had) wasn’t posted in response to the controversy. It was posted weeks ago, in response to a fan question about what input she had into the cover. In any case, I think y’all are being pretty mean to keep callling her pathetic and sad when, basically, she wrote a book, and the publisher gave her a cover and she’s been involved in all this controversy that’s not of her creation. Would you call someone pathetic or sad if they were robbed too?

  82. Michael
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:52:42

    And an overlay for Steamed. The goggles pretty much speak for themselves. The rest is different enough to probably qualify as ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘derived from’.

    Confession time:
    I once used a sliver of Matt Damon’s forehead from a photo without permission, to touch up a pic that was missing part of a guy’s head. In my defense, the bottom part of the guy’s forehead was very Matt Damonish to begin with. And really, doesn’t Matt Damon belong to us all?

  83. Jane
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:55:27

    @Veronica The sad and awkward position the author was in was the result of her publisher engaging in some unfortunate behavior. While the author was excitedly talking up her cover and her input, the publisher was taking someone else’s work.

  84. Jane
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:57:43

    @Michael Thanks for the animated gifs. The ‘seeing is believing’ maxim applies here.

  85. Passive Guy
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 11:59:26

    I’m not trying to spam your comments, but I wrote about the legal issues raised by this cover copying on my blog and one of my commenters suggested I post the link here.

  86. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 13:05:42

    @Veronica: I’m pretty sure I didn’t call her pathetic or sad, and, in fact, please point to me where somebody DID call her pathetic or sad. Pretty much everyone has held her, Ms. Flinn, blameless in this incident, so don’t go leaping to conclusions.

  87. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 13:06:55

    @Jane: ‘zactly, Jane. Thanks for putting it much better than I did.

  88. Robin Nuttall
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 16:52:12

    I know this is a mostly dead subject now but I really want to address @T and @Adrienne. Perhaps this will make it even clearer. The definition of copyright infringement is:

    “As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.

    Here’s a good article on it:

    @Adrienne, if you are using a photograph to inspire your work, you are also using that photographer’s eye, experience, and artistic talent. If your end piece of artwork does not resemble the photograph and would not be recognizable as the photograph if they were put side by side, it is not derivative. If it does, it is. If you are creating derivative works without permission of the original photographer, you are in violation of copyright no matter how many hours you put into the work yourself.

    I do dog design. Here is a photograph I used as a base for one of my designs:

    Here is one of several final designs from the photo:

    I spent hours working on this using a Wacom, doing the typography, etc. It is a derivative work. I do have written permission from the photographer, so am not in violation of copyright but it is definitely derivative.

  89. Veronica
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:25:11

    @Anne, many of the comments are calling her sad, but if that doesn’t reflect your opinion, that’s great. It’s obvious she is blameless in this. However, it’s also obvious from the artist’s most recent blog post that she is bent on dragging the author’s name through the mud, rather than placing the blame on the publisher where it belongs. THAT’S sad.

  90. GrowlyCub
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:35:25

    @Veronica: Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t the author who saw the art or even the cover and said to HC, ‘this fits my story perfectly, please get it’?

    If you don’t, your strong assertion that the author is innocent is pretty brave.

  91. Garapan
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:51:57

    No one who knows Nathalia Suellen would believe for the first instant that she would participate in this rubbish. So I’m glad it’s well known that she has been ripped off because that’s the bottom line. And according to International Copyright law, all of the signatories of the Berne Convention afford equal copyright protection to all citizens of every member state, so the law applies here, and Nathalia has a major lawsuit to pursue and ultimately win.

    “How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?”

    “Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent. See Circular 14, Copyright Registration for Derivative Works.”

    So, derivative work must differ significantly from the original work. And derivative copyright only applies to the changes, not to the original. And the original copyright holder must give permission for the derivative work.

  92. M A
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 19:54:45


    GrowlyCub says:

    August 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm
    @Veronica: Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t the author who saw the art or even the cover and said to HC, ‘this fits my story perfectly, please get it’?

    If you don’t, your strong assertion that the author is innocent is pretty brave.

    It cannot be any braver than speculating that the author (Flinn) requested Suellen’s artwork for her cover when, in fact, nothing supports that speculation.

    However, even if you are correct and Flinn did request the artwork (pretty unlikely IMHO,) it has little bearing on HC’s decision to negotiate with Suellen and, upon Suellen declining to sell the same cover to two authors, opting to create an obvious knockoff of Suellen’s work.

  93. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 20:42:39

    @Veronica – not to kick a dead horse, but I don’t believe Nathalia wants to drag the author’s name through the mud. Rather, she doesn’t want Harper Collins to just shove this matter under the rug and pretend it never happened.

    I think she wants at least an apology, and she’s outraged that no one from HC has contacted her. I certainly think she deserves at least that much.

    For my part, I believe Alex Flinn has been gracious about the whole thing. I love the Spiderwork cover, and I can imagine her disappointment in not being able to use it. Of course that’s assuming she didn’t have anything to do with copying a cover design that wasn’t available – and from what I understand, most authors with the big publishing houses don’t have control over covers.

  94. Anne Victory
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 21:52:44

    @Veronica: Most everyone has said it makes the author look sad. They aren’t saying she is, just that HC’s actions have given Ms. Flinn that appearance. That is pretty much true. She has, in my opinion, done much to reverse that damage by the way she has conducted herself but the bottom line is that HC’s actions reflected poorly upon her. Sorry you don’t agree with that assessment, but that is all that has been said here. I don’t think anyone has directly attacked Ms. Flinn – there is a substantial difference between saying “this appears this way because of XYZ” and “this is how it is.” To sum up: while it’s nice of you to defend Ms. Flinn, nobody is attacking her.

  95. Veronica
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 06:31:09

    Nathalia Suellen currently has up a new blog post in which she accuses the author of knowing what was going on and criticizes her very minimalist statement about the incident. I guess I’m just surprised she doesn’t contact the publisher instead of publicly criticizing the author, who has already made it clear she has little say on the art. What HC did was wrong but, to me, Ms. Suellen is not behaving professionally at this point.

  96. Liz
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 14:14:11

    I agree it wasn’t Flinn’s fault and she likely had no clue about the similarities until the outrage surfaced in the last week. HC seems to be doing the right thing (after the fact) in changing Bewitching’s cover, and both authors seem to be doing a good job playing nice.

    However, I wouldn’t blame either Rigel or her artist for being put off by Flinn’s blog comment that implies the similar covers were pure coincidence. HC obviously knew about and wanted Rigel’s cover. When they couldn’t buy it, they copied it. Don’t know if it’s illegal, but it was far from ethical. And far from pure chance.

  97. Jane
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 14:19:56

    @Liz: I agree Liz. Obviously, the author is in a difficult position but I can’t help but feel she compounds the insult and injury to particularly the artist when she implies that similarities just happen.

    That is not the case here. Similarities didn’t just happen. HC knowingly copied artwork that it couldn’t buy legitimately.

  98. Kathy
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 16:16:54

    I see the artist just posted a Brazilian interview on her page. It mentions she didn’t want to do the cover because the Flin book dealt with sorcery/witchcraft. This is different than what she’s saying about how she told them it was used for another book. I wonder which is true. Maybe she didn’t tell them about Rigel’s book at all. I mean, what are the odds they wanted the same cover from another book?

  99. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 17:33:02

    I loved the Spiderwork cover so much that I asked Nathalia about doing the cover for the next book in the series. She was willing, but then later I got a very nice email from her saying that she wouldn’t be able to do it because the paranormal subject matter goes against her beliefs.

    We had already agreed on the Spiderwork cover, and I’d already paid her. She was gracious about letting me keep the cover for that book, and she has always said complementary things about Spiderwork on her websites.

    Somewhere in all this, I believe I saw a comment from Nathalia that HC had approached her about the cover saying they wanted “something like the Spiderwork cover.” So they did know about the cover in advance.

    What a muddle!

    I think it’s possible that all things are true: HC wanted the Spiderwork cover, and Nathalia refused because it had already been licensed and she didn’t want her art used to promote sorcery or witchcraft.

  100. L.K. Rigel
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 18:13:18

    complimentary. sheesh.

  101. Jane
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 20:54:57

    If you look at Suellen’s original blog post and my recounting of her email, it is made clear that Suellen could not work on the Bewitching project for personal reasons.

    Suellen offered to create another image, including one with the same model but eventually the parties could not come to an agreement.

    Suellen shared that she did not want to work on books with witches as it was against her beliefs. I didn’t think that was relevant to whether HC copied her work and did not include it.

    But her personal beliefs are what kept her and HC coming to an agreement. It actually makes what HC did even more galling, I’m sure.

  102. Kathy
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 08:35:16

    @Jane, but it does sort of go to what people were saying about why didn’t they just hire her to create a different cover. They couldn’t have. And, considering there are an AWFUL LOT of covers out there that sort of look like this, it is limiting for them. For example, all these books look like both the Bewitching and Spiderwork covers. There are fashions in YA covers (A few years ago, about half the covers showed a girl from the chin to waist, usually with a pink background) , and apparently, the “girl in black against a cloudy background” look is one of them. Since the book is apparently about a witch, it is a look Harper might well have wanted from the start, but now, anything they do in that vein may be seen as copying Suellen’s work. They can’t just slap a beach scene on the book to look different.

    If Harper comes up with a cover with the same girl (who doesn’t actually look like Suellen’s girl, due to the way different hair color and style), posed facing forward, against the same background (which is actually entirely different from Suellen’s background), holding a crow on her arm (The crow is apparently an element of the book), is that copying? Or is that just creating a cover along the fashion? At some point, they need to be allowed to move on and market their book.

  103. Jane
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 08:40:05

    @Kathy: The point here is that HarperCollins contacted the artist, wanted a particular piece of art, and when denied, they didn’t think up a new look, they created a cover piece that was likely “substantially similar”.

    It doesn’t matter that HC couldn’t hire the artist. Not being able to hire the original artist does not give them excuse to copy her work. It doesn’t matter that there are similar looks out there. Are they “substantially similar”?

    This isn’t a case in which similarities just happen. This is a case of knowingly copying an existing piece of work.

    There isn’t a need to argue hypotheticals. We are looking at what happened based on the unrebutted facts presented by Suellen and LK Rigel, facts that have been presented to HarperCollins without a specific response. Hypotheticals, in this case, serve only to swerve attention away from HC’s actions which were to want a piece of art, be denied that piece of art, and then copy it anyway.

  104. Kathy
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 08:59:38

    Of course what HarperCollins did was wrong. However, I’m just saying it is now, GOING FORWARD, going to be difficult for them to create another cover which reflects the content of their book without the artist now accusing them of still copying from her. But since the only elements of the current cover which actually resemble Suellen’s art (other than the layout) are 1) a girl in a black gown, and 2) a crow, both of which the publisher might reasonably want to keep on any cover, it’s going to be hard. Since the author seems to be blameless in all this, I’m apparently in the minority of people who don’t think she should have to suffer for her publisher’s actions.

  105. Jane
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 09:17:51

    @Kathy I fail to see how HC can’t create a cover that reflects the contents of a book without copying. Surely there is more than one look available for authors writing about witches.

  106. Kathy
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 09:29:18

    Are you purposely misunderstanding? I certainly didn’t say that they can’t create a cover without copying. I’m saying that there are a lot of similar covers out there, and it will be hard for them to create a cover with these elements without it LOOKING LIKE they’re copying. Just now, I googled young adult paranormal romance covers and came up, in short order, with two HARPERCOLLINS covers which resemble the Bewitching cover. But, the thing is, both these books are already out, so it seems like they were created BEFORE HarperCollins likely knew about Suellen or her art. and

    It just seems like there are a lot of similar covers out there.

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