A Facebook friend, Sarah Beaber asked:

What do people who are writing tarot books need to know about copyright on card images? For instance, if someone were to submit a manuscript to Llewellyn, would there be complications if the author wanted to include images from decks that aren’t published by Llewellyn? How does the number of card images in a text affect the price of production (and purchase)? Do writers need to seek permission for using images before submitting a manuscript, or is this something that’s handled by the publisher if the manuscript is accepted for publication?

Great question, Sarah!

The first thing to know about tarot card image copyright is to know who owns the publishing rights, which may be different than who owns the copyright. Many people write to me asking for permission to use the decks I worked on. My work through Llewellyn is all managed by Llewellyn. They own the publishing rights, while the artist (or the creator and artist share) usually hold the copyright. Publishing rights are the right to publish the work in any way. So it is usually best to go to the publisher first, as I believe most publishers are like Llewellyn and manage all the usage rights for the author/artist. All publishers will have their own policies. Usage in blogs and in reviews are often free, if they fall within specific bounds. Usage in commercial or for profit projects is usually a licensing situation and requires payment.

With Llewellyn, authors are responsible for obtaining all permissions (and all fees, if any) for any work they submit. If the decks are published by Llewellyn (or Lo Scarabeo, Llewellyn’s partner), there is usually no problem or fees. Using decks by other publishers or self-published decks is not a problem as long as the author obtains the proper signatures on our permission form and pays the necessary fees if any and if the images are provided per the necessary specifications for Llewellyn’s printing needs.

The question about pricing and costs is a tricky one. The more complicated a layout, the higher the production cost, as it takes the internal design team more time to design and layout those sorts of books. When deciding to contract a book, cost is considered and if it would put the work in too high a price point, then that is reason to reject the project. All the decisions about acquiring are a complicated equation and this is just one of them. So the advice I would give is to only include images that are necessary for the reader. Images that are “nice but not necessary” add to cost and often (but not always) add unnecessary cost.

I hope this answers your question, Sarah! Thanks for asking it. As always, I am happy to answer tarot or tarot publishing related questions here!

Written by Barbara Moore
The tarot has been a part of Barbara Moore’s personal and professional lives for over a decade. In college, the tarot intrigued her with its marvelous blending of mythology, psychology, art, and history. Later, she served as the tarot specialist for Llewellyn Publications. Over the years, she has ...