Royalty free refers to a type of license for copyrighted intellectual property images allowing us its usage in an array of applications without having to shell out the royalty fee for each usage. The most basic concept you need to know before working with stock photos is that you do not acquire the property of the photo itself but just a right for using the same in a certain way. The photographer remains to be the rightful owner of the photo as he holds the copyright for the same. He can thus sell his work multiple times for generating income out of it.

Allowed Uses Of Royalty Free Images

Just like other license types, royalty free images are licensed under two different types which determine its usage:

  • Editorial royalty free licenses wherein you receive the right to use the image forever after paying for the license just once. However, these photos can only be used for editorial purposes such as enhancement or illustration of text in digital publications or print. Profit-oriented or commercial usage of the same is prohibited. Distribution allowance of such photos are also limited by most of the agencies.
  • Commercial royalty free licenses on the other hand have a wide range of usage which can cater to practically all commercial purposes in both print and physical media such as websites, marketing and advertising, in-house designs, graphic designs and many more. Distribution also comes with an upper ceiling in the case of film, TV and other multimedia uses which have a project budget to adhere to.


Stock photos can be used in web templates, e-book covers and all sorts of products which you wish to put up for resale such as t-shirts and packaging. However, you will have to opt for an extended royalty free license for proceeding with similar applications. Just as the name suggests, extended royalty free licenses impart extra rights to its holders thus diluting the limitations which characterise standard licenses. You can thus proceed with no restriction on multimedia distribution, unlimited print run/reproduction and rights for using the photos in resale products.

Restrictions On Usage Of Royalty Free Images

Constraints might be added or removed as per the discretion of each agency on the usage of their royalty free images. Thus, it is imperative to read the licensing terms carefully before purchasing the same. Below we have listed down some of the most common limitations which can assist you in your journey towards royalty free world of breath-taking graphics.


  • The image cannot be shared with other users over a network, intranet or drive having shared access. It cannot also be gifted or transferred to a third party.
  • The image cannot be redistributed or sold by the user and has to be used as a part of an integral design only.
  • The image cannot be used in adult-related or pornographic content as well as other morally questionable issues.
  • The images cannot be used with properties or models in a defamatory way which suggests a negative connotation on the properties or models depicted in the image. This brings under its radar the concepts of gender, sexuality, politics, health and other sensitive issues.
  • It cannot be used as a part of your logo, designing mark or trademark since that would lead to legal issues.


Licenses are sold by stock agencies conferring upon buyers the right of using photos. However, they do not transfer the copyright or actual ownership of the images. The profit arising out of the license sold is divided between the agency and the photographer. While with some licenses, the customer is required to pay royalties to the agency, copyright owner or both every time they use the photo, this doesn’t happen in the case of Royalty free images, where the buyer has to pay just once and for a varied set of rights.