Asked in Copyright for New York

Q: Can usage of the same illustrator for a book of a similar topic be considered a copyright infringement?

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm an author of a children's book that was illustrated as "work for hire" by a freelancer. I got contacted by an author of another book who complains that I would be infringing her copyrights because my book has the same illustration style. The story is different; the characters look different; everything was created originally to fit my story. The other author claims that the illustration style is the same (well, it's the artistic style of the illustrator we both used) and that I'm using similar colors. I haven't even seen the other book before the author contacted me.

Am I not allowed to use the same illustrator when both our books have a similar topic? The main character is a little girl in both books (they look differently). Does copyright also protect illustrator style?

Both books are published in the US.

Thank you very much!

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2 Lawyer Answers
Kathryn Perales
Kathryn Perales
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Oberlin, OH

A: The way you describe it, it sounds like there is no infringement and you have nothing to worry about. Understand, however, two things: there are 2 sides to every story, and this person has the power to sue you and cause you to run up all kinds of expenses and costs, even if they don't prevail in the end.

Have you discussed the situation with your illustrator?

If you do actually get sued, make sure you file an answer and defend yourself, even if the allegations are ridiculous, so they don't get a default judgment against you.

Appropriate responses to this author range from "So sue me" to "What is it you really want?"

It would be a good idea to consult with a copyright lawyer such as myself, or any of the other copyright lawyers here on Justia.

Allison Higgins agrees with this answer

Allison Higgins
Allison Higgins
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Helotes, TX

A: I agree with the previous answer but would like to add a few points. It may also depend on the contract that you both signed with the illustrator as well as what platform you used to find the illustrator. There may be terms of service that relate to IP rights.

Again, even if the other author has no rights in the end, they could still drag you to court. It may be best that you "lawyer up" sooner rather than later to protect yourself. I recommend finding a copyright defense attorney to help you.

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