The whole realm of copyright and permissions regarding artwork and/or it's reproduction can be somewhat problematic, particularly for those unfamiliar with such things, and especially for those operating a one person craft based small business with a limited operating budget. It can also on occasion be both time consuming and somewhat daunting. Whilst on the one hand you absolutely want to do the right thing regarding an artist's work, and make sure that you have obtained the correct permissions, actually achieving that goal can be more difficult that what you may at first imagine. Before embarking on this journey it is important to remember the following points and potential hurdles, and also please remember that the information below is relative to the dust jacket art on a volume only, not the printed contents of the book it protects, and only represents my personal experience. 

   The first obstacle can be the publisher of the title which features the jacket art, and more important, who actually executed the work and retains ownership of it today, if at all. On some occasions the work will be contracted out to an independent artist who will be paid outright, sometimes not, and even repeated attempts to find the person responsible for a book's cover art can end in failure due to this. Particularly if the publisher themselves has either changed hands at any point since publication, been subject to a merger which happens regularly, or has closed down entirely. Dependent on the age of the artwork, you may have no information other that the name of an anonymous in house artist who executed the work, or alternatively, something signed into the artwork if it was farmed out. And sometimes no help or available information from the publisher at all, and that's If they even still exist in that same entity.

   For example - Doubleday, the original publisher of Stephen King's early works, no longer exists as an independent company, and is owned today by Penguin Random House - I tried for many months on a regular basis to track down John Cayea, the artist who designed the original dust jacket for The Stand, without success partly due to this. And not as the fault of anyone in their current Permissions Dept. It was simply due to the fact that they either don't have access to that type of detailed information any longer, or are mostly concerned with the book and TV rights to the work itself, not the dustcover art on the original first edition. In my experience, unless the volume is less that 25 years old, or has at least some form of following - i.e. the author or the title itself has some form of fan group which will give it an online presence - tracking down the creator of any artwork outside that time frame can often be a time consuming and expensive activity which ends in disappointment.

  It is also important when contacting a publishing house for any type of permission or approval document on recent jacket art - particularly the larger ones, and especially if the communication takes place via email  - to be ready to repeat yourself on multiple occasions to multiple people. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have contacted one of the above seeking clarification or information regarding a specific dustcover, only to receive a response relative to book or TV rights. It can become very frustrating and time consuming, particularly again, when it's only in regard to what will ever be a small project or number of cases. 

   The second step, once you have managed to identify the person who executed the jacket, is to discover whether of not they still hold any rights to it, or were paid outright at the time of publication. If it is the latter, and you have already received a permissions for use from the publisher, your journey is now done and you can move on to the next project. If not, and the artist negotiated a limited use rights deal for a certain book or issue - a rarer circumstance - your task is to contact them in order to discover whether they are interested in considering or responding to any project or request. It is important at this point to remember that individuals have busy lives, work and personal, so try to be patient. And don't ever take it for granted that your request is guaranteed to get to them, so it is also important to keep usable records of your attempts. Again, dependent on the time frame of the book's publication date, and also more salient, on what you are actually making or producing.

   Another example - I recently made a case for N. Scott Momaday, House Of Dawn in both in its US and UK issue first printing artwork. Lovely book. Lovely art. Yet despite its stature as a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I highly doubt that in the next ten years I will make more than a couple of others. It's collectable to those who collect the Pulitzer Prize canon, and maybe the odd signed personal copy, but that would be it. Maybe 50 people country wide. When you now take into account that I'm also not the only one making cases for these titles, that really limits the sale potential drastically. The most I would be giving the artist under any agreement would be a small percentage of the overall costs of an $80 slipcase that I will produce again maybe a couple of times, if ever. Under such circumstances it can actually take more time to try and track down the artist than the item is actually worth. And even when you do, its for a literal couple of bucks to go in the artist's direction, which occasionally feels like you are almost insulting them.

   All of the above being said, it is not an excuse to simply do nothing, and regardless of failed attempts is it the responsibility of the entity wanting to use or reproduce the art, to try. It is also very important to frame your request, be it an offer of monetary compensation to the rights holder, or other proposal, in the right way for both yourself and your project. On the occasions I have been successful, it has been with 1. More recent works, and 2. Where the artist is prepared to take the time to look at whatever project or plan you are endeavoring to undertake.

   It is also important to be very upfront in reference to what level of profit, if any, that you may be gaining, and that any other contributor may be entitled to. I look at my work - and try to frame any request or proposal - from the position that the jacket art makes the case more attractive, so it is therefore more likely that the book that goes in it will be protected and saved. Regardless of any other consideration, I'm hopeful that by the time I am finished, due to my work and the help of both the collectors who assemble these books, and the artists who provide permission, there will be literally thousands of volumes safely enclosed in beautiful boxes that will now make it to the next generations. And that, along with an accurate costing of initial outlay in time, materials, and potential sales, is a point that I always try to make when approaching any artist or publisher. Another example - I never make more than one slipcase at a time unless I have specific commission of a limited design from a group of customers who have have pre-ordered a certain number. I don't have the space or the financial resources to carry a heavy inventory load of multiple copies of the same slipcase. Once a case sells, I make another to replace it. I don't have extra ten waiting in an inventory stock room. All of these points make a difference when discussing any long or short term project, and providing the person you are approaching the actual nature of what you are trying to achieve is always helpful.

   And last and by no means least, in my own experience sometimes the biggest obstacle is ourselves, and for varying reasons. On many occasions for example I find myself so deep in a project, or having just finished one and diving into the next, that these considerations get put to the side to be dealt with when I can find the time. Which of course it can then become harder to do. And particularly on a case or project where you know that you are only going to be making a very limited quantity of that item in the future. Or have already tried on a previous occasion in similar circumstances without success. Which leads to the next reason to be considered which is our very real fear of rejection which occasionally does happen and can be quite devastating when it does. Particularly to those of us with a more creative or sensitive bent. You've put this work in, wanting to move forwards, only to have the person you're contacting tell you to sling your hook. It happens. And its not fun. You feel small and foolish, despite that never being the intention. 

  In closing allow me to say that on the occasions I have been able to get a response from an artist, it has been for the most part positive. And whilst I have received numerous permissions from the major publishing houses in regards to using the jacket art from the original issues, trying to find the artist themselves, has been far more difficult. The only occasions to date have I been asked for any form of financial compensation are those joint projects involving larger quantities of a specific case for a specific purpose in partnership with the artist / small publishing house , which I've been happy to contribute. If you are an artist and you are on this site and see your work and I haven't been able to contact you, please get in touch with me as I would love to hear from you.



The Casemaker