We Need To Talk About AI Generated Book Covers

I really hate pounding this particular drum. If you’re a writer who is serious about your work, we have to have this conversation.

I knew it was just a matter of time before someone started trying to make a quick buck by selling AI generated art under the guise of providing cheap covers to struggling authors. I’ve been having these conversations in private with a few writers right up until yesterday when that particular Pandora’s box was opened in the indie horror community. It’s just too tempting, and it seems like a victimless crime. It has become clear that a lot of people are not aware of just how good these bots are getting at “creating art.”

But why is it bad?

1. Some of these bots sample existing works of art, essentially stealing human-created art or images sampled from Google. Pretty unethical shit. If you didn’t know, you just can’t take any image off of Google and resell it. Programs like Midjourney claim they are not doing that, which sounds great but here’s the next problem –

2. U.S. Federal law states that these AI generated images cannot be copyrighted. Which becomes a reeeaaaal slippery slope if you happen to buy one of these images for a book you’ve spent a year writing, only to find out that someone else has the same image for their product. No big deal until you get a copyright claim on Amazon or whatever site you’re using to produce your book. Once you’ve had enough of those claims against you, your account may be suspended. Before it gets to that point, your book will go into review (costing you time and sales) and usually Amazon will want you to verify the copyright and ownership of the material. And here’s the thing, you can’t. You’ll have wasted your money, and then wasted your time, and then have to get a new cover from a reputable source, because guess what? Now your account has been flagged and the parent company doesn’t want to have to deal with copyright claims.

Not to mention, since it can’t be copyrighted, all it takes is for one unscrupulous sonofabitch to right ‘click/save as’ your cover and then load it up as their own, with no legal recourse for the author. In less than an hour, someone could take an AI generated cover, steal it, and place it on hundreds of products with companies like Redbubble.

Furthermore, there is a big difference between selling an AI generated NFT vs selling on markets like Amazon and Ingram, who do have to adhere to copyright law.

3. What eventually made folks like me and some other professionals speak up yesterday was the fact that when these images were first dropped onto Facebook and Twitter, images created by text prompts, that had no notification to authors/audiences of how they were generated. The images look stellar. The bots are getting really good. An author bought one of these pieces and showed it off. The long thread of people fawning over it in the comments was alarming.

Did these folks not know what this was? Because here’s what immediately started happening – people began flocking to their ‘creator’ and grabbing up incredibly cheap covers probably thinking at the surface level that this was real art. After I had a discussion with the guy, he did the right thing and started making each post notify folks that it was AI generated, and even did some pinned posts. Which is great, but it still doesn’t solve the problem (he’s not a bad person, by the way, but probably just didn’t understand the weight of the issue).

While you think you’re getting a great deal (a deal too good to be true) for some amazing weird/abstract horror art, what you’re really getting is a possible and probable copyright claim in your future and a bunch of wasted time. The guy probably does think that he is helping people, and I know for sure he’s enjoying the quick buck, but the person who is really going to get hurt by this is authors and publishers. When it eventually catches up to someone, he’ll be able to shrug his shoulders and just go, “Well, that sucks.”

And then keep your money. You’ll have no recourse.

No matter what way you try to spin it, it’s a grift in the guise of helping authors. I know covers can be expensive, books in general are incredibly expensive to produce, especially if you’re trying to do it right. Luckily the guy in question retroactively started telling people how the images were made, but there is a flood of people pretending to be real artists, and charging premiums for this stuff. They are essentially a clone army of James Pattersons, but for book covers.

Just be wary, especially if you’re serious about your work. The ramifications could cost you a lot of time, money, and headaches. All for the low, low price of $25.

Don Noble is the co-owner of Rooster Republic Press and Strangehouse Books. He is a freelance artist with a focus on weird horror.


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