Royalty-free is an often-misconstrued term that is actually very important to understand. Those who don't have an understanding of the word may find themselves in legal trouble after using an image in an unauthorized way.
What Royalty Free Is Not
Royalty-free is not copyright free. It is not free of charge. It is not even necessarily free of terms or restrictions.
What Royalty Free Is
Royalty-Free images are typically images that require a one-time fee for their use; the operative word being “use.” You are not given the photo to be yours exclusively, rather, you may be one of many that have acquired a royalty-free license to use the image. Royalty-free is exactly what it says – free from having to pay royalties on its use.
If you do a Google search for “royalty-free images,” you will see results for many of the big stock photography agencies such as, iStockphoto, BigStock Photo, GettyImages, Fotolia, 123rf, and Dreamstime.
Is Royalty-Free Right for Me?
If you plan to use the image many times, royalty-free might be great for you because it will save you money in licensing fees. The images are also generally priced based on the file size, so if you know you will only ever need it no bigger than 2″x2″, then you could buy the lowest sized image to fit that need.