Some images are okay to use in books and others are not. There are three general criteria to consider:

  1. Does the content and composition of the image add value for the reader (even if the value is purely decorative)?
  2. Is the image legally available to use?
  3. Is the image of a technical quality that can be successfully printed?

2. Can you legally use the image? “I found it on the Web” does not mean an image is free to use. Every image, whether it is a photograph or a drawing or a chart or a diagram was created by someone, even if you don’t know who that someone is. Some images are in the public domain and you can use them freely. But most images are available for use only if you license them or obtain written permission to use them from their lawful owners. (There are several websites where you can license commercial images for use in books at quite reasonable prices.)

Photos in your family collection are trickier. Perhaps the only photo you have of Uncle Ed is a proof of a studio portrait taken by a commercial photographer who died thirty years ago. Can you use it in your memoir? That’s not always clear, and copyright law is murky on such orphan works. Or maybe you have snapshots you took of your army buddies. If you took the pictures, you own them. But that doesn’t mean you can print photos of other people without their permission. If you don’t have model releases and one of your buddies who is still alive would prefer you not use his picture, you might have a problem.

These situations get complicated very quickly. Your best bet is to discuss the matter with an experienced permissions editor.

[Previous:part 1]

[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]