Market Trends

What is a Royalty Free Image License?

By EyeEm - 2 min read

It doesn’t mean a work can be used entirely without payment.

Let’s first dive into the naming of royalty free. A royalty payment is made to the creator or owner of a copyrighted work when other parties wish to use that work to make profit, advertise, or otherwise employ commercially. The royalty is meant to compensate the creator for the creation of their work.

In that sense, the term royalty free might seem a bit misleading: One might think that a royalty free image license means that the work could be used entirely without payment or licensing fees. That, however, is not what the term is meant to imply. What a royalty free image license means instead is that a work can be used without restrictions once the initial license has been paid.

Why is this an important difference? It is a common misconception to believe that buying an image license gives you the rights to use the image in any context you might like. Often, licenses come with restrictions that specify whether an image can be used digitally or in print, how many times it may be printed, or even where it is to be printed – a license to print a photo on a magazine cover, for instance, costs more than a license to print the same image within the magazine.

Royalty free is a great fix for that: While the license might be more expensive than a specific license, it gives you the freedom to use the image wherever and however many times as you wish. For that reason, royalty free licenses are a popular option in the stock photo business: Stock photos are often used on websites where the number of viewers is difficult to estimate, or in print publications with large runs where it would be unfeasible to license a photo based on the number of copies.

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Header image by Robin.