Royalty free vs rights managed pictures

It’s hard to imagine creating attractive marketing materials without using pictures. However, the stock photography industry can sometimes be a bit tricky. Each image has its own set of authorisation and simply buying a photo does not necessarily mean you can use it for everything.

Among the many licencing models existing, Royalty Free (RF) and Rights Managed (RM) are the two most commonly used in the stock photography industry. But what is the difference between them?

Let’s start by defining what each of these licences mean:

What are royalty free images?

Unlike what many people think, royalty free images are not non copyrighted images. Such pictures are however well regulated and their property belongs to the photographer or stock agency. You can therefore not use them for free.

So what exactly are Royalty free images? The term "Royalty free images" actually implies that images are given the RF license, which means the buyer will have to pay for the image only once. They will then be able to use the picture for an unlimited amount of time.

The main features of royalty free images are:

  • Unlimited usage duration
  • Unlimited reach/audience/countries the picture will be used in
  • Multiple uses - wide variety of purposes
  • Non exclusive - other people can buy and use the picture
  • Non shareable - the photographer remains the owner and each new entity using the image needs to pay for its use.

Royalty free pictures are therefore great if you are a small business and don’t want to worry too much about image rights management. The simplification of the terms enables you to use the photos easily for almost all your projects.

What are rights managed images?

In comparison, the rights managed licence, or RM for short, is a type of license sold under a one-time-use basis. The buyer can use the photo in only one specific way, as defined in the contract at the time of purchase. So, what are Rights Managed Images?

  • The main features of rights managed images are:
  • Negotiated terms - purpose, audience, countries…
  • Limited use - only possible to use it for a certain amount of time and after that you will need to buy it again
  • Exclusivity - often offered but to be negotiated with the provider
  • Premium images - often featuring celebrities

Rights Managed Images exact terms need to be negotiated with the stock agency. They are usually more expensive than royalty free images as a result, especially because you cannot use them for an unlimited amount of time.

Because they often feature celebrities, they are treated as more premium and, therefore, more controlled images. They are great for big advertising companies that want to use high quality pictures.

Which licence should you use?

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which licence is more suited to your objective. If you want to give a more premium feel to your brand, rights managed may be more suited for you.
If you want to avoid the headache of image management however, maybe royalty free pictures will be best.

Here’s an overview of the difference between rights managed and royalty free images:

Now that you've had the tldr version, we hope you have a better idea of what each image licence entails and which one is the best for you.

Stock images and stock photography in general can be very simple if you have the right advice. If you have any further question, don’t hesitate to contact our team. We would be very happy to guide you and give you advice on the stock photography industry.


(Sep 16, 2021) Clemence Servonnat Getting started

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