What does Royalty Free mean?

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.

It is possible that you will find a royalty-free image somewhere that is free. However, that doesn't mean that you don't still have an End User License Agreement or Terms of Use Agreement. The creator still retains rights to their image, regardless if it is free or not. Be sure to understand the terms of the license agreement at the time of purchase.

Search here for Royalty-Free Images now

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

6 Comments
  1. I AM WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONTRIBUTING TO CHILDHOOD CANCER. I CANNOT AFFORD AN ARTIST, CAN I USE PICTURES FROM THE COMPUTER FREE OF CHARGE? WHAT IF I ALTER THEM A LITTLE, WOULD THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE? PLEASE ANSWER ME ASAP. THANK YOU

    • Dear Gail, thanks for your questions. We appreciate your contribution to childs with cancer and there are a lot of free images out there. Please feel free to pick from one of the free photos per week or check our interviews with the free photo ressource Stockvault or RGB Stock

      I hope this will help you to find great photos for the book you write. Keep up the good work.

      Amos

  2. Hey I need help! Someone wants me to draw a spy girl holding a stick, so I searched up an image of a really good pose of a girl holding a stick. What I did is I try to use the same pose as her but not trace it. Is this ok? It says that the image is royalty-free stock photo. Will I get a copyrighted?

    • Hi there, no you can not use a stock photo as a template to draw something. I recommend to either shoot some photos yourself to draw afterward or ask some photographers for an exception.

  3. Reply
    stephanie a beverungen October 4, 2020 at 6:37 am

    If I submit to be contributor on stock sites, and my photos are royalty free, isn’t it still proper to share
    copyright information for the image? I’ve seen many of my images in magazines and on facebook with to photo credit. Seems wrong, will likely be withdrawing all my photos

    • It all depends on the usage, the license of the stock agency and your contract with the stock agency you are supplying images to. Usually, commercial usage does not need a credit (only valid for some countries). Editorial usage i.e. usage in newspapers does require copyright. I recommend asking the stock agencies you are supplying.

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