Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Covers » Did Crown Business steal my book design? You decide.

Did Crown Business steal my book design? You decide.

14 June 2013

From Hen House Press:

Cover Comparison

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I understand that imitation (copying) is the sincerest form of flattery, but imitation without attribution, license, or compensation is really just theft, isn’t it? Crown Business has launched its latest blockbuster with what looks like my cover design. It did not seek my permission. It gave me no attribution. It did not offer or pay compensation. Shouldn’t Crown Business (part of Crown Publishing, part of Random House, part of Bertelsmann) come up with its own original designs? Don’t its designers warranty that their work is original? Is it really entitled to take my cover design and claim it as its own, if that is what it did?

. . . .

So I reached out to the nice folks at Crown Business and was immediately referred to the legal department at Random House, where a very nice woman and attorney named Min Lee provided me with a one-line response to my inquiry. On June 4, 2013, she wrote: “I am in receipt of your letter, and we’ll review your claim and respond shortly.”  I did not hear back from her.

Link to the rest at Hen House Press

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Covers

35 Comments to “Did Crown Business steal my book design? You decide.”

  1. Looks to me like both are derived from the posters for Hang ’em High.


  2. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, that’s pretty ballsy coming from an author who stole the cover motif, title, and “plot” of another book.

    I get it’s a parody, but still.

  3. I think somebody needs to watch this video,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxSwr130ptw , if they really think there’s much originality in cover design. (And it’s cover design, not book design, they’re complaining about.)

    This for a book which blatantly riffs on the title “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

  4. Um. No.

    It’s a stock photo. They could have used the exact same photo if they chose. Tie as noose is not a novel concept. And the text design work, the only thing actually designed by them, is completely different.

  5. SPF – stock photo fatigue

    A condition prohibiting the purchase of a book due to the cheesy, generic imagery on its cover.

    Personally, anything with wide eyes is a no-click/no-buy these days.

    • Wide eyes?

    • Hey! I’ll have you know that for some of us that’s a genre convention!

      And seriously, I put the widest eyes to date on the cover of my latest short, and out the gate it’s selling faster than any previous book. 🙂

      • Mark, I know of genre convention and the benefits of sticking close to convention to help readers find what they like. It’s a great tool.

        But I’m visually inclined and unless I have a recommendation of some sort, I judge books by their covers. Harshly. Let’s hope I’m a minority, but in a world of visual abundance the importance of catching someone’s eye is key.

        Now, in all fairness, readers of Romance and Erotica appears to be better people than me. They seem to know exactly what type of story content they want and the cover seems to be more of a cue than a selling point. But for most other genres, a generic cover will not pique my curiosity.

        The down-side, as illustrated by the article’s umpteenth use of a tie-noose, is that the same stock images are used over and over, as-is.

        No tweaking, photo shop filtering, flipping, skewing or tinting to give the image a visual twist to set it apart. The casual browser sees same-old, same-old and won’t discover your world-changing book.

        Hence my severe case of SPF when I see yet another cover sporting the same pair of wide, frightened eyes.

        • great books have been discovered that have crap covers; no image, just author’s name; stock images; stupid images; attempts at twee images; incomprehensible images; pictures of the author’s kinds, car or booty; and freakin’ clip art, including a recent bestseller icon from a kid’s game.

          Aquisition editors make the same mistake time after time… first page read, nope. First page read, nope. First page read, nope.

          But then I tend to revere, not the tweaks and tricks of photoshop or saturation scales, but the actual person who can illustrate by hand, and like an angel, making a one of a kind cover that is iconic on its own AND reveres the story within the book. Unfortunately I’ve had to become expert in photoshop for alas, I am not one of the gifted draftsmen /draftswomen of the world. But those who are, I bow to you.

  6. Hard one to prove. There are similarities, but there are differences too. Also, like others said above, this is a fairly standard type of picture.

  7. As others mentioned, I don’t think there’s anything original in a tie-as-noose concept.

  8. There are only so many iterations for any book design.

    For that matter, there are tons of covers (including from the major publishers) that have been riffing off the “Twilight” designs.

    Some examples:

    C.S. Lewis’s “Words to Live By:


    A variety of themed covers:


    Kelley Armstrong’s “Otherworld” books received revised covers that were a marketing decision to align with trends:


    Vampire books on Amazon commonly have one of two variations:

    * Close-up of woman’s face with mouth agape exposing fangs
    * Woman in leather with requisite tough accessories (swords, guns)

    Romance books have also trended with very similar covers (witness all the Fabio iterations).

    Ditto for Westerns.

    Good luck to the author convincing Crown Business (part of Crown Publishing, part of Random House, part of Bertelsmann) to credit or pay. If they have the time and inclination they’re likely to dig up very similar images that predate all this.

  9. She’s like a baby author who wants to sue someone “Because they totally stealed my idea about a detective who plays softball!” Or whatever. [sigh] Because baby writers (and apparently baby cover artists) are the only people who think “ideas” are unique, special snowflakes that nobody could ever-ever duplicate through sheer coincidence.

    Apparently these folks have never heard of the infinite number of monkeys thing.


  10. This reminds me of the case of the NBC logo in the ’70’s. In 1976, NBC unveiled a new logo (with much fanfare). It was supposed to have cost them $1 million for the design. It was a stylized N made up of two trapezoids. The kicker is that it looked almost exactly like the Nebraska Educational TV logo, except that the NET logo was one-color (red, of course) and the NBC logo was two-tone, blue and the exact same shade of red.

    In that case, NBC had to pay off NET with $800,000 in used equipment and $55,000 to cover the design and implementation. I had just moved to Nebraska then and IIRC, the NET logo had been designed by an employee (i.e. work for hire).

    • I remember that story. Although from what I read, the point was that NBC spent a million for the design & NET spent some trivial amount, either $100 or $500. (I seem to remember it was $100, but I won’t swear to it.)

      I guess when a company gets to a certain size, it’s unable to spend less than a million on any important project.

  11. Quick, download all the e-smut you can because erotica writer’s the world over are about to have their work come to a grinding (haha) halt from impending lawsuits!

    Seriously, scroll through the dirty categories and you can see hundreds of covers (thousands I bet, if you felt like looking that long) using identical stocks and similar design concepts.

    And yes, this cover isn’t a terribly original concept. If you want a guaranteed “unique” cover then you can always shell out for a custom illustration or buy all rights to a stock. Otherwise, you accept that your stock may pop up elsewhere.

  12. The cover designer isn’t the author. It’s the guy who runs Hen House Press, Rick Tannenbaum. The cover image is from iStockPhoto, probably this one http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-16630391-office-noose.php?st=ec885f4, in which case all he did was change the tie and background colour and add some poorly thought out text.

    From his bio on the about page:

    “With degrees in Business Administration and Law, I’ve used my education and experience in a series of entrepreneurial endeavors. As an attorney, I negotiated literary rights contracts and engaged in the buying and selling of copyrighted material for profit.”


    “I have been involved in book design since 1999 when I took courses in letterpress printing and book design at the New York Center for Book Arts. At a shared studio in Jersey City, I honed my craft and continue to study letterpress and linoleum block printing, as related to book design.”

    So, not a cover designer then. But some background in copyright law.

    I haven’t found the specific tie used by Crown Business, but it is obviously a different image and I doubt it’s been edited much from the original photo, if at all. Which means it is likely both cover “designers” picked an image they liked from stock that sort of fit their theme and used it with minimal alteration.

    If there was any actual design going on other than placement of text and font considerations, I’d think he’d have a point. As it stands, no way. And from his background I’d suggest he should know better.

  13. It’s not even the same tie photo. That she’s concerned about the ‘idea’ is correct. Noose/Tie is not an original concept anymore. Especially since she got her own idea for the title & cover from an established work that also used a tie on the cover.

  14. Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything.

  15. The striped tie is a shutterstock photo. It illustrates that cover design is rarely much more than downloading a free or inexpensive photograph.

    • Yes, if you are going to create your own noose-tie book cover and further enrage the Hen House Pres artists, get your photo at Shutterstock and not the link an post above to iStock, which is a Getty subsidiary and is ripping-off creatives.

  16. The indignation on the original post that PG didn’t quote is pretty hilarious.

  17. If I had a dime for every time I nicked, er, was inspired by someone else’s design of something I’d be a hundredaire.

    “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” ~Pablo Picasso

    I don’t mean to compare myself or the people who designed the covers above to Picasso, it’s just that all of this is nothing new.

    • Re ““Good artists copy, great artists steal.” ~Pablo Picasso” It’s a pretty wobbly attribution. No doubt someone said it, but it wasnt likely Picasso. Tho for sure, someone wanting to do so, may have cobbled it and attributed it to the great Picasso, to try to validate their own aims. We’ll prob never know. And, viz:

      “In conclusion, in 1892 an important precursor of this family of expressions was published. The [original] author was W. H. Davenport Adams, and his words may have influenced the version that T. S. Eliot published in 1920. Both writers referenced “poets”, but by 1959 a version with “artists” was in circulation. The expression continued to metamorphose and instances were attributed to major artists such as Igor Stravinsky, William Faulkner, and Pablo Picasso.

      There is no substantive evidence for the attribution to Picasso. Or to the words claimed by some to be ‘good/great steal’ etc.

      Even though Steve Jobs used to say Picasso said this. Jobs was full ot it on this one. If one knew P’s actual violent reactive philosophy toward Fascism and being told what to do to ‘look like’ something/someone else, or to borrow from ‘the approved’, they couldnt have pulled this quote out of their whatever.

      The original quote long before Picasso and echoed by writers of their times, was actually lividly the opposite of the cobbled quote we have today, falsely attributed to Picasso. ““to imitate” was commendable, but “to steal” was unworthy. The implication was that imitation is easy to see and back in the day, people cited whom they drew from. To steal, in that time, in those tiny circles compared to say the internet today which reveals all image/design imitators just by using tineye or google, meant to try to conceal one’s sources and more so to make others think the ‘thief’ was some kind of genius when they were as the iconic P actually did speak of, that is, the locusts that pilfer.

      The artists/ writers of their time were not buying the dull trope of ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’ But then, few tried to make money/ a living by art/ sculpture/ writing, often had day jobs of quite some status, favorable marriage or birth, of friends/relatives who pooled/offered resources, not to mention, often enough collectors and patrons, and so on. Some were just p.poor and in ill health for life. They often created stunningly original works. It was another time and place, with mores placed on close connection face to face as they strove and suffered in the same small subculture.

      Just a .02

      • just an endnote; it may surprise how many quotes have no valid attribution to those they are attributed to. Mark Twain is a favorite, for instance.

  18. 1) As an experienced copyright licensing attorney my response to this is HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *SNORT* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ARE YOU FREAKING SERIOUS, DUDE?

    2) I don’t know how much actual lawyering this guy has done, but I am one of the most responsive (I HATE having things on my desk) GC in the freaking world and people often have to wait more than five whole days to get a response from me, especially about some piddly little nonsense claim that I will have to research exactly as if it were an actual valid claim. Hold. Your. Horses.

    • I loved that. That should be on the wall in all investigative and law offices: thanks Marc:

      ” people often have to wait more than five whole days to get a response from me, especially about some piddly little nonsense claim that I will have to research exactly as if it were an actual valid claim. Hold. Your. Horses.”

  19. There is no copyright in ideas and that’s the only similarity between these two covers – different ties, different colours, different fonts. Anyway, there is nothing original about using a tie as a noose. That’s why the police take away your tie if they arrest you.

  20. The situation between LK Rigel’s Spiderwork vs. Alex Flinn’s Bewitching actually had controverial legs to stand on.


    P.S. I felt very bad for Alex . Lovely case of author having absolutely nothing to do the cover of a trad published book and bearing the brunt of the manure hitting the spinning blades.

    • I remember that one. [nod] Big difference between the two pieces, though, in level of detail. To say nothing of the publisher contacting the artist to ask for the piece before doing their own. [cough] Bit of a smoking gun there.


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