Royalty-Free is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) stock photo licenses of today. It’s the default license offered at most online stock photo agencies, too.
However, the license’s name often leads to misunderstandings and misconceptions over what it is, and particularly about its cost.
Such mistakes can result in considerable legal trouble when using stock photos, all the more in commercial use, so it is very important to understand the meaning of royalty-free and the licensing terms correctly.
What Royalty Free Is Not
Let's first and foremost clarify some of the most common misconstructions around the term “royalty free”:
Royalty-free is not copyright-free – There is still a copyright owner involved, who is licensing a right to use their intellectual property, but not selling ownership. Copyright law still applies.
Royalty-free is not free of charge – The image license has a price, that you must pay in order to use the copyrighted material. It is not a free-to-use license.
Royalty-free is not free of terms or restrictions – The license terms are to be followed in order to make legal use of the stock images under this contract.
What Royalty Free Is
Now, let's have a look at what, in fact, means Royalty-Free when talking media licensing:
Royalty-Free license is very flexible – When you buy a royalty-free photo, you get a battery of usage rights that is not restricted by time period, location, or medium. You can use the same image over and over, in different projects and places, for as long as you want. It enables use for commercial purposes, and in things like social media, YouTube videos, billboards, adverts, and more.
Royalty-Free images are a one-time payment – You pay a unique, flat fee, and you never have to pay for the photo again. The name literally means you are exempted from paying royalties, this is, to pay recurrent fees for using an image. This, combined with the low pricing most stock photo sites offer, makes them very affordable.
Royalty-Free images are non-exclusive – RF licenses do not grant you exclusive rights over the image (like Rights Managed license can allow). Meaning, others can license the same content and use it at the same time as you. However, you can alter the images as much as you wish to make them look more unique, and it’s the fact they can be licensed over and over that makes the pricing so affordable.
Royalty-Free photos do not require attribution – The license terms exempt you from having to credit the author and/or the stock photo agency when you use their images, which makes using them a lot easier and also makes it less evident that it’s a stock photo.
Royalty-Free images are high-quality – Most stock photo sites that sell RF images have them in high resolution, suitable for professional use.
They’re immediately available, they’re suitable for commercial use, and they’re very budget-friendly. What’s more to ask?
Is Royalty-Free Right for Me?
A royalty-free license is ideal in many cases, but ultimately only you can know if it’s the right option for your needs.
In general, this is a good match if you:
- Plan to use an image many times, in different designs – RF license will save you money in licensing fees.
- Need the images for commercial purposes, such as marketing and advertising – Royalty-free pictures are vetted for this use and thus much safer than alternatives such as free stock photos in the public domain.
- Don’t want to bother with limitations regarding time, placement, and geographical location when you use the photos – A royalty-free license erases these concerns.
- Want to be able to use the image without attribution – Something entirely impossible with free content, such as images under creative commons licenses.
If you think your intended use fits into these criteria, then you should definitely consider going for a royalty-free license when it comes to your stock photos.
Just make sure you fully understand the license terms and all they imply, to ensure you are using the images safely.