Question: If my friend or family member offers to create illustrations or take photos for my book. Who owns the work? And how do you copyright your book?

Navigating the intricate web of copyright laws can be daunting, especially when incorporating work from friends or family into your own projects. Here’s a comprehensive guide, drawing insights from experts at, on how to ensure your work is protected.

Who Owns the Work?

Imagine this scenario: a friend or relative generously offers to contribute illustrations or photos for your upcoming book. But when it’s time to publish, who truly has ownership? And more importantly, how do you secure the copyright for your book?

Ownership largely depends on who originally created the content — be it illustrations, photos, or other elements — and whether or not that ownership is then transferred to you.

It might seem harmless to use content created by someone close to you. After all, what are the odds they’d stake a claim on your work? But here’s the catch — if your book becomes a sensation and starts raking in profits, you might find yourself facing unexpected legal challenges from those claiming their contribution was pivotal to its success.

To avoid such complications, it’s crucial to establish a clear written agreement detailing the ownership of the content.

Two Common Scenarios:

1. Using the Work with Permission (without owning copyrights)

Here, you’ve been granted permission to use the work, but you don’t hold its copyright.

2. Owning the Work Rights via a ‘Work-for-Hire’ Agreement

In this case, you’ve acquired the rights to the work and hold its copyrights.

Each scenario demands distinct steps to determine intellectual property rights and to ensure the entire work is copyrighted accurately.

Beware of Common Missteps:

Copyright blunders can jeopardize your protection rights and make you vulnerable to legal issues. Particularly, when your book contains contributions from others, like illustrators or photographers.

If you’ve solely crafted every part of your book (storyline, illustrations, photos), then you inherently own all rights. However, if you’ve incorporated external elements — especially from friends or family — you can’t assert copyrights unless those rights were explicitly transferred to you.

Scenario Breakdown:

1. Using Work with External Permission

When you use content from others with their consent, ensure you have a written license or permission. When registering your copyright, these contributions should be identified as ‘Pre-Existing 3rd Party Material’.

Fig. 1: Sample screenshot showing ‘Limitation for Pre-Existing Material

2. Owning Rights to Externally Created Work

By default, the creator of any artistic work is its copyright holder. To transfer these rights, a written ‘Work-for-Hire’ or Assignment Agreement is essential.

Using a ‘Work-for-Hire’ agreement clarifies the relationship between parties and transfers all rights to you. Consequently, for copyright purposes, you’d be listed as the work’s ‘Author’.

Fig 2: Excerpt from Sample ‘Work-for-Hire’ Agreement
(Note: Always have your own attorney review and customize all legal documents)

Once an agreement is in place, you can treat these contributions as your own during copyright registration.

Fig. 3: Sample screenshot of Author Contribution for ‘Text’, ‘Art’ and ‘Photos’
Fig 4: Sample screenshot showing ‘Work-for-Hire’ selection

**A Quick Note on CopyrightsNow®:**

CopyrightsNow® offers an efficient way to file your copyright registration, equipped with a user-friendly dashboard, comprehensive online assistance, detailed procedures, and expert reviews to identify potential issues.

As a client, you’ll also gain access to a complimentary ‘Work-for-Hire’ template for personalization and legal review.

For an in-depth look into copyright registration and ‘Work-for-Hire’, [click here](

Ready to protect your work?

Just so you know — when you work with Skinny Brown Dog we take care of this for you.

*Disclaimer:* This article and software application provide general information believed to be accurate during publication. However, copyright regulations evolve and are open to interpretation. Always seek personal legal advice regarding your specific situation.*



Eric G Reid

I'm Eric G. Reid, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Skinny Brown Dog Media. My mission: transform aspiring writers into authors, and help them create an impact