Answered By: Ana Enriquez
Last Updated: Oct 25, 2021     Views: 27632

Book covers, album covers, and movie covers are copyrightable. However, fair use, a provision of U.S. copyright law, gives users the right to use copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances. If a use is fair, the user need not notify or seek permission from the copyright holder. For a general overview, see our fair use page.

Fair use is extremely favorable to many uses of cover images and movie posters. Here's why:

  • First factor: Criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research are favored purposes under the first factor. If you use a cover or poster for one of these purposes, that weighs in favor of fair use. Nonprofit educational purpose also favors fair use.
  • Second factor: If the work you are using is more factual than creative, this weighs in favor of fair use under the second factor. If it's more creative than factual, that weighs against fair use. The second factor is relatively unimportant, but it improves the fair use analysis slightly for simple cover images and movie posters.
  • Third factor: Under the third factor, using a large amount of the work or the part of the work from which the work derives its value weighs against fair use. Movie posters and album covers are likely to be considered separate works; book covers often are registered for copyright only as part of the book.
  • Fourth factor: The fourth factor considers the impact of your use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. It's quite important for these types of images.
    • One thing to consider here is whether you're providing a substitute for something the rightsholder sells. Book covers and album covers aren't typically sold separate from their books and albums. Movie posters are sometimes sold on their own, but using a movie poster image to promote an authorized screening, for example, does not provide a substitute for posters sold by the studio.
    • Another thing to consider is whether the rightsholder licenses the type of use you're making. In that case, there's less room for fair use. However, that's quite rare with these kinds of promotional materials. Publishing companies, for example, don't generally sell licenses to use book cover images -- they encourage free use of those images to promote their books.

Please note that the Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright is not able to provide legal advice and therefore cannot make fair use determinations for library patrons or give guidance on whether permission is necessary for particular uses.

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