Publishing Your First Book: Copyrights and Art Usage License Agreements

One of the many first-time publisher questions I had as part of the project was the copyright of art given to me and/or owned by me from two artists. Both agreed that I could use their art in the book and on the cover but I suspected I needed more than something verbal or a simple email. I was also unsure what happens when you purchase art. With the caveat that I’m not providing legal advice and the reader should consult with a lawyer (as I did), here is what I learned and a possible starting point for an art licensing agreement. You’ll also want to register a copyright for your original work – more on that below too.

  • Simply purchasing art does not mean you are automatically the copyright holder (“work for hire” can be different as was the case for the custom Viewless Wings logo purchased through – in that case the license was explicitly transferred to me as part of the purchase).
  • An art licensing agreement protects you, and more importantly in my case (since both the artists are friends who agreed to help me out), the agreement protects the artists.
  • Copyright laws can vary by country and by state so going back to the disclaimer above, I’m not providing legal advice and you should consult with a lawyer.

After looking at multiple online examples and existing agreements I drafted a simplified agreement. Because the art in my case was either already purchased or being gifted for use in the book there is no clause in this example dealing with fees. My goal was something legally sound and understandable. A template you can start from is included below.

Registering the copyright for your original work

Equally important to properly licensing any artwork used in your book is registering the copyright of your original work. When your fully designed cover and interior design is complete and before your book is available for sale make sure you register your “literary work” with the U.S. Copyright Office: You can initiative the process completely online and the fee is (currently) $65.

“canvas” by James Morehead is available for pre-order here. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notification of new posts by email.

Sample art licensing agreement


State of [STATE NAME]


This Licensing Agreement (the “Agreement”) is made effective as of _______________ by and between the following Licensor of the following address:


and the following Licensee of the following address:


In the Agreement, the Party who is granting the right to use the licensed property will be referred to as “LICENSOR,” and the Party who is receiving the right to use the licensed property will be referred to as “LICENSEE.” The individuals may be known collectively as the “Parties.” All references to the Licensee and Licensor in this Agreement shall include, if relevant, the Parties’ parent companies, affiliates, and subsidiaries.

The Parties agree to the following:


1. LICENSOR owns the following property (the “Authored Work”):

The paintings and photograph shown in EXHIBIT A 

2. In accordance with this Agreement, LICENSOR grants LICENSEE an exclusive, worldwide license to use the Authored Work as listed in Article I.4.

3. This License provides the limited right to reproduce, publicly display and distribute the Authored Work only for the agreed upon terms set forth in this Agreement and signed by both Parties. The Authored Work used for any purpose not directly related to these terms must be with the express written permission of the Licensor and may include the payment of additional fees unless otherwise agreed to in writing.

4. Licensee may use the Authored Work only in the following manner unless both Parties agree to otherwise in writing:

Artwork in EXHIBIT A can be used by the LICENSEE for [DETAILS OF USAGE].
LICENSOR will be visibly credited. 

5. LICENSOR retains title and ownership of the Authored Work and derivative works will be assigned to Licensor by Licensee.


6. Unless the prior written approval of the Licensor is given, the Licensee may not modify or change the Authored Work in any manner other than the photographs in EXHIBIT A.


7. If the Licensee fails to abide by the obligations of this Agreement the Licensor shall have the option to cancel this Agreement by providing 30 days’ written notice to the Licensee.

8. The Licensee shall have the option of preventing the termination of this Agreement by taking corrective action that cures the default, if such corrective action is taken prior to the end of the time period stated above and if there are no other defaults during such time period.


9. As of the effective date, LICENSEE grants back to LICENSOR a non-exclusive royalty free license to use the Authored Work as LICENSOR sees fit, for the creation of derivative works.

10. This license back is only granted if and when the license shall not limit LICENSEE’s rights and public rights under this License.


11. Neither Party makes any warranties with respect to the use, sale, or other transfer of the Authored Work by the other Party or by any third-party, and LICENSEE accepts the product “AS IS.”

12. In no event will LICENSOR be responsible for direct, indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages that are in any way related to LICENSEE’s use of the Authored Work.


13. This Agreement shall be binding on any successors of the Parties.

14. Neither Party shall have the right to assign its interests in this Agreement to any other Party, unless the prior written consent of the other Party is obtained.


15. This Agreement may be terminated by either Party by providing 30 days’ written notice to the other Party.


16. This Agreement contains the entire Agreement between the parties regarding the subject matter of this Agreement, and there are no other promises or conditions in any other Agreement, whether oral or written.


17. If any provisions of this Agreement shall be held to be valid or unenforceable for any reason, the remaining provisions shall continue to be valid and enforceable.

18. If a court finds that any provision of this Agreement is invalid or unenforceable, but that by limiting such provision it would become valid and enforceable, then such provision shall be deemed to be written, construed, and enforced as so limited.


19. This Agreement may be modified or amended if and only if the amendment is made in writing and signed by both Parties.


20. The failure of either Party to enforce any provision of this Agreement shall not be construed as a waiver or limitation of that Party’s right to subsequently enforce and compel strict compliance with every provision of this Agreement.


21. This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of the State of [STATE NAME].

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the Parties execute the Agreement as follows:

Signature of LICENSOR, Licensor


Signature of LICENSEE, Licensee



LICENSOR artwork


Viewless Wings Press DOES NOT provide any legal advice and users of this article and template should consult with their own lawyer for legal advice.

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