Are Royalty-Free Stock Images Really Free?

Are royalty-free stock images really free? That the question many people tend to ask. What is royalty-free mean? What does free mean? The answer lies in its licensing.

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Whatever you take a free offer from any microstock agency that offers free images that image still has the license attached to it. Whether or not you pay for the image has nothing to do with the license. Licensing is a whole other ballgame. Take DepositPhotos for example. In 2015, they ran a promotion that said that if you were to sign up for a brand-new account as a brand-new customer, you would get five free credits per day for the first seven days of your account. That equates to 35 free images that you didn’t pay for. That’s what free means. “Free” means that the agency offered it for free without payment from you. These images still have the royalty-free license attached to it that governs how you might use it.

“Royalty-free” is something else entirely. Royalty-free is the license that tells you how you can use the image. There are three different licensing schemes that are in use by microstock agencies. Royalty-free is the most common of them. It is the most affordable option and allows you to use the image more than once without paying a royalty. Hence the name, royalty-free – you’re not paying a fee every time you use it.

The next license is an extended license. “Extended” means that you are extending the royalty-free license. This is the kind of license you need if you every intent to reproduce the image for reselling purposes. Although the exact details of the royalty-free license are different from agency to agency, you generally get a certain number of impressions with royalty-free images. If you want to increase that number, you need an extended license. This allows you to print things like business cards, T-shirts, greeting cards, calendars and more.

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Sometimes that’s not the best for you. What if you needed to use an image exclusively to prevent things like brand dilution? If that’s the case, you need what’s called a “Rights-Managed” license. This is a time-sensitive license that is more expensive than both royalty-free and extended. However, you are granted exclusive use of that image during the license duration. Brand dilution is what happens when a brand loses its value. This offers protection against that because no other competitors can use this same image. This image is exclusively tied to you. Usually, rights managed images allow you for a much larger amount of impressions and print distribution than do royalty-free or even extended license images.