What does Royalty Free and Rights Managed Mean?

There is a significant difference between Royalty Free stock photos and Rights Managed stock photos.  If you are going to start using stock photography purchased from stock photography agencies for your graphic needs, image creations and marketing campaigns, understanding both of these terms is the first step to using purchased images. You might want to get exclusive rights for a stock photo as well.

Royalty Free Agreements

Royalty Free stock photos are in many cases interpreted as free photos.  This is not true.  Royalty Free means that the purchaser can use the photo multiple times on multiple projects with few restrictions, and without having to pay further royalties for said use.  Royal free photos can be used in a project, campaign, or on multiple print materials.  In simple terms, if you make a brochure with a Royalty Free image you can also make a poster, a business card and a banner with no further charges applied to your account.

Royalty Free also allows the purchaser to extend use to employees of the company that purchased the image.  This enables a company to use a set of images with all employees to build continuity in their images and not have to pay fees each time an employee needs to use the purchased image.

The downside to Royalty Free images is that they cannot be purchased on an exclusive basis, so other stock photography purchasers may end up using the image you purchased for their campaign as well.  Royalty Free is a non-exclusive copyright license.  There is a very famous image that was purchased by a few internet companies in the 1990s.  The photo of a young Asian internet user (his real name is George Chen) was purchased from a stock photography agency as a Royalty Free image.  In months, the same image of ‘George Chen’ was on hundreds of internet sites, companies who were trying to create the poster child of the internet.   George’s photo met the need for internet companies, but the non-exclusive license had many companies accessing the same Royalty Free image.

Rights Managed Agreements

Rights Managed is a onetime charge for the use of a photo, one time, and can be purchased as an exclusive or non-exclusive photo.  If the user wants to use the image for additional projects, the image needs to be re-licensed again and outline the new use for the image.  The Rights Managed agreement allows multiple copies of the image under one project, but new uses need to be renegotiated.  As a real time example, you can use a Rights Managed photo for a brochure, but if you want to use it for a poster you will have to purchase a new licensing agreement that outlines the rights for poster distribution and use.

What makes a Rights Managed licensing agreement attractive is the option for exclusive or non-exclusive use.  This is an additional copyright license that needs to be negotiated.

Both copyright agreements are available through stock photography agencies.  Upon purchase of a stock photo the basic agreement will be a Royalty Free agreement.  In many cases the Royalty Free licensing agreement can be upgraded to an extended or enhanced agreement.  These agreements extend certain rights to Royalty Free images and should not be confused with Rights Managed photos.  Each stock photography agency defines what these additions are and the additional cost to add the enhancements.

What should I purchase, Royalty Free or Rights Managed Photos?

Review your needs and stock photography use before you purchase a photo from a stock photography agency.  If you are creating a personal invitation, local brochure or using the image for your family blog, purchasing Royalty Free images are the best choice.

If a photo is going to be used to build the image of your company, Rights Managed  with an exclusive agreement would be the best choice so that another company can not purchase the same image and ride on your success.

Where to Buy Rights Managed Stock Photos?

There are several stock photography agencies offering photos under Rights Managed license. Most commonly these are agencies working on a more traditional business model. One of the stands out by all the good reasons:

Getty Images


Getty Images is one of the most renowned stock photography companies in the world. With over 20 years in business, they dominate the market in worldwide media distribution. Their strong global presence and first-class content, including a large Editorial imagery service and exclusive access to cream of the top events in various fields, has helped them become such a prestigious supplier for Rights Managed images.

Their collections host millions of photos in every category, style, theme. They have both commercial-ready and editorial licenses, and of course being Rights Managed they are priced according to your intended use.

If you look for seriousness, quality and reputability, Getty Images is the right place to go. You can learn more about this agency in our Getty Images review.

Where to Buy Royalty Free Stock Photos?

As Royalty Free license enables lower prices and has more flexible usage terms, it has become very popular and there is a large pool of stock photo agencies where to buy Royalty Free images. They are mostly online-based businesses using what is called the “microstock” model (they sell images at really low prices, setting a minimum purchase requirement). With so many options, there's a few companies that stand out:


istocklogo300 > What does Royalty Free and Rights Managed Mean?

iStock was the pioneer company selling Royalty Free stock photography online. Since years backed by parent company Getty Images, this agency is famous for their detailed curation process and for offering a huge selection of exclusive content.

With options to buy on demand with credits or via monthly-limited subscriptions, iStock photos cost between $8 and $33 per unit, and as low as $0.42/$0.21 with a subscription plan. See all iStock plans and prices here.

If you look for quality and uniqueness at low cost, iStock is a good match. You can find more details in our iStock review. Or sign up for free at iStock to explore their collections.

And for limited time, you'll be able to save more in your purchase with our exclusive iStock Promo Code with 15% off in EVERYTHING. Only until the end of September 2018, you can buy credit packs and subscriptions at iStock at cut-price, so make sure to grab our promo code today!


shutterstock logo new s > What does Royalty Free and Rights Managed Mean?

Shutterstock is one of the most popular online stock photo agencies, and a well-established one. They pioneered in the space introducing the stock photo subscription, a buying model most agencies use today. They're known for having the largest collection of images, with over 190 million files and counting, and for their strict technical standards and commercial eye.

They sell Royalty Free licensed photos on demand with image packs, or with monthly-fixed subscriptions. Images cost $9.16/$9.80 on demand, and as little as $0.26 each with subscriptions. Click here to see all Shutterstock plans and prices. 

If you want infinite variety in content and simple, low pricing options to buy, Shutterstock is a good option. Discover more about them in our Shutterstock review. And sign up for free at Shutterstock to start downloading Royalty Free photos. And do grab our special Shutterstock Coupon Code to save yourself up to 15% off your purchase!


Stockphotos Logo Tight

Stockphotos.com is a stock photo agency aimed specifically at small and medium-sized businesses, with offers tailored to fit all budgets, covering most image needs. Backed by Stock Photo Press and long-time industry expert and owner Amos Struck, this agency has a large library of great images ready to download and use.

You can purchase either image packs or subscriptions, being able to choose between different annual download limits, starting with the Club Easy offer –which gives you 200 downloads to use within a year for just $99–. Like this, photos will cost you $12 to $4.20 on demand and just $0.49 to $0.29 per image with subscriptions.

If you work on a limited budget and want high quality photos, Stockphotos.com is for you. You can read more in our dedicated Stockphotos.com review. And you can use our Stockphotos.com coupon to get 10 extra downloads on your plan for free!

Bottom line on Royalty Free and Rights Managed Stock Photos

Both of these terms refer to the copyright agreement; legal uses and purchasing conditions of a stock photo.  Understanding the difference will enable you to determine whether you should be opting for the Royalty Free image price or paying for the Rights Managed price.  Online stock photography sites provide both options for the purchaser.  Many see the difference in price as a waste of money but if your use falls under the definition of Rights Managed  it will save you a ton of money to pay just a bit more to cover yourself legally or have stock photo exclusivity.

Review the licensing agreements on the stock photography sites to ensure you are complying with their agreements, understand what rights you are purchasing and negotiate additional agreements for your project.  Extended or enhanced rights may be sufficient for the needs of a project and is worth learning for each site.

Amos Struck
Amos Struck

Amos Struck, a renowned expert with over two decades in the stock photography industry, is known for his profound expertise in both stock imagery and artificial intelligence (AI). He is the founder of StockPhotoSecrets.com and a driving force behind the innovative AI-driven platform, Stockphotos.com. His pioneering work in visual AI is marked by co-founding Ximilar AI. Amos also established the Microstock Expo Conference, a key event in the stock photography sector. As a regular speaker at major industry conferences like DMLA and a prominent member of CEPIC, he consistently contributes to the industry's growth and evolution through a blend of technological innovation and market insight.

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