Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Can I Really Use Public Domain Image for My Book Cover?

Dear Rich: I have this image in mind for the cover of a new book I've got a contract for. The image is by Gustave Dore and dates from the 19th century. If you look on Wikipedia Commons it says it's in the public domain because the copyright expired. But I wasn't sure that this meant that it was OK to reproduce the image as a book cover for free (although I of course hope that is what it means). Do you think that would be OK? The book will be published by a UK publisher. The short answer is that you're free to use the image. You're correct that British and U.S. copyright laws may differ (you can read the gruesome details about the British public domain here). And you may still have to suffer through a payment to some museum/gatekeeper who possesses access to the quality reproduction you need. But the image is in the public domain and you're free to use it without asking anyone'spermission.