What are Royalty Free Images?


Nowadays, it is hard to imagine a regular ad or website containing no images at all. Visual content is a great way to promote a product or accompany a text, as it helps to understand it at a glance and effectively communicate. This design trend resulted in the rapid development of the photo trading industry. Many professional photographers offer their work to stock photo sites that specialise in selling images on the Internet. 

However, numerous possibilities require numerous rules and limitations, and visual content is no exception. Copyright infringement, or piracy, is a serious crime that can lead to very unpleasant consequences. Luckily for all, limitations and rules are just simple tools made to help us in for the legal aspects. These rules are defined in the different licenses. Each of them gives you certain rights but also imposes some boundaries. 

Let's talk about the most widespead of photo usage licences — the royalty free license. 

What does royalty free license imply?

Despite the popularity of this kind of license, still, many people struggle with some misunderstandings, when first facing this term. A common misconception is that a royalty-free image means a picture that is free of any charge. In reality, in many cases a fee is imposed on them before you can use them.

The term "Royalty free images" actually implies that images are given the RF license, which frees the buyer from paying fees from every further sale or use in contrasts to the "Rights managed images" (RM), which are limited in terms of use duration for example.

Although you don’t acquire ownership rights, the RF license provides the buyer with a certain list of rights for the image use for an established fee and frees you from further commissions. So, as you see, the images are not completely free, but there is a great advantage to this license.

It’s worth to note that the license only permits you to employ the image in a certain way. No matter who bought it and how many times, the image is still the creator's property. On the other hand, after you paid for it, you can use the image forever, but of course in ways allowed within the royalty free licence. 

This type of license is a good way for aspiring and experienced photography enthusiasts to promote their work and make a little money. Usually, income from the sale is shared between the stock agency and the creator. Furthermore, one image can be sold a great number of times to different people. 

Quite a lot of agencies provide the right to use royalty free licenses, but this type of license is mostly popular among microstock agencies. The key to its popularity among them is the reusability of the transaction, which gives them a constant income. 

Basic features of Royalty free images

Now, when you have a common understanding of the meaning of royalty free, we shall take a closer look at some common particularities of this type of license.

  • Non-exclusive. This is the most important point. As mentioned above, an image given an RF license can be sold numerous times on the same rights to millions of people. So, if you get a photo on your website, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon it on your competitor's page

  • Multiple uses. One of the serious advantages among other licenses is the opportunity to use an image multiple times for a wide variety of purposes. That implies many distributional methods. It is however important to note that it has some limitations on the exact purposes that will vary from picture to picture.

  • Permanent. Yes, you are not mistaken: there’s no expiration date. You can use it until apocalypse day.

  • Non-shareable. This point implies that the right to use the image belongs only to the purchaser. Thus, you simply have no rights to share, present or resell it to your friends, family etc.

  • Global. Royalty free license has no limits on geographical spread. 

Of course, each stock agency demands its own list of different requirements and terms that concern royalty free licenses. So, they may have some additional features.

Royalty Free usage permissions and limitations 

As we mentioned before, the usage of royalty free licensed images has very specific permissions and limitations. In addition, it depends on the specific type of RF license. Due to its popularity, royalty-free images are used for various purposes, among which:

  • Commercial Royalty Free licenses (CRF) are applied primarily for merchant uses. Commercial license means you can use the image to promote your product, service or even idea. However, you can’t use an image as a product itself.

  • Editorial Royalty Free licenses (ERF) are used strictly for non-commercial purposes. For instance, you can use the picture to accompany your article or a book. Pictures with models on the photo or random passers-by (if it’s not the studio photo) mustn’t be used in a way that would show the evolution of the product. Otherwise, it would be a commercial use.

Sometimes none of these types seems to be convenient to use. In such cases, there is another type, which expands your rights in usage. 


The bounds in royalty free images concern all patent types. 

  • You cannot share an image with any other person or group of people.

  • You are prohibited from selling the image as you don’t have the right to ownership. 

  • There’s a strict ban on the use of any NSFW, adult, or generally inappropriate content. 

  • You can’t use the image in a way that would make the models seem to approve or support the product straightforwardly.

  • You cannot use the image to give mean or offensive implications to the people in the photo. 

  • An image can’t serve as a logotype or trademark.

Where can you find stock pictures?

Fortunately there are many places where you can get Royalty free images. Imageselect for example, has a collection of 260 millions of pictures for commercial and editorial use.

Prices might vary and depending on the size and purpose of the image and you can always contact our team to make sure you get the right picture for you.

In such cases, when free stock picture agencies do not possess good enough images, small agencies may come to your aid.


  • How do you tell if a photo is copyrighted?

Some images have a watermark, but if there’s none, you may copy the image's address and paste it into the Google image search. Thus, you can see where the pic does belong to and check if you can download it for free, need to have the author's permission, or need to pay to use it.

  • Where can I get high quality royalty free images?

The answer is simple: Imageselect. We possess a large choice in each category and we offer extra quality. But mind that the higer the resolution of the picture, the higher the fee.

  • Can I use Google images for free?

Google is just a searching tool which means the pictures showing up in the search results are not necessarily free to use. In reality, Google takes the pictures for all the websites available online and showcase them in the search result, like a hosting system. Despite that, quite a lot of people download images from Google Images to set them as their desktop wallpaper.

  • What happens if you use copyrighted images without permission?

This usually brings some legal consequences to you. You will have to pay the owner civil damages which can be very high depending on the use you made of the image. If you used it for a long time, showcased it to a lot of people and violated even the licence's uses, you can find yourself facing huge legal issues.


Another question? Contact us! Our team of stock photography experts will be happy to guide you.

(Sep 5, 2021) Clemence Servonnat Getting started

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