Images often play an important part in non-fiction writing. As well as helping to clarify ideas, add interest, and break up the monotony of endless text, they also infuse diversity and creative energy into non-fiction work.
However, identifying high-quality images in order to illustrate a non-fiction book can be a more challenging task than first anticipated. Finding images with the help of the internet may seem like a relatively straightforward process, but the critical issue of copyright can often lead to an image being unavailable for use: a frustrating discovery for many writers.
To complicate matters even further, an image’s copyright may be held by a number of different rights holders. Most often, this will be the creator of the image: in the case of a painting, for example, this would be the painter themselves; in the case of a photograph, it would be the person who took the image.
Copyright of images can also be held by a third party. For example, Historic Environment Scotland hold the copyright on a wide selection of images created over the last two centuries relating to buildings in Scotland. Getty Images, based in America, likewise hold the copyright to a wide variety of different images. Finding a good picture is only the start; obtaining copyright clearance is often the hardest part of using a picture in a publication.
The easiest way of obtaining copyright clearance is to approach the copyright holder. For large organisations, they may have an existing mechanism for carrying out this process. Smaller organisations, such as local museums, may not have a dedicated way of inquiring about copyright. What is crucial is that you obtain copyright permission for commercial use, as including a picture in a publication is a commercial activity.
Some images are free from copyright restrictions; these are often licensed under what is known as Creative Commons licenses. There are various websites where Creative Commons images can be searched. Again, though, it is essential to ensure that the license is for commercial use. This blog has been a short introduction to a complex subject. There is no doubt that images form a central part of a non-fiction book, adding diversity and increasing the readers’ enjoyment. The most important point to remember is that if you are looking to use images in a book obtaining copyright clearance is all-important.