Royalty-free images are easily one of the most commonly-used and simultaneously commonly-confused pieces of design gear out there. Most people know that there is some sort of legal requirement about using stock images and that they can get into a whole mess of trouble if they’re not careful. But what that means, how exactly to be careful, and how to cover yourself from getting prosecuted for copyright infringement is not on most Business 101 syllabuses - which is a real shame.
Wondering exactly what are royalty-free images, how you use them, and where you can find the best royalty images today? Here’s everything you should have been taught about royalty-free photos before being put on the job.
When you purchase royalty-free stock photos, you are essentially buying the license to use the images in various ways. The good thing about this is that you only pay once, but you can use the images multiple times. Oh, and it's perfectly legit. That's a big plus.
There are two types of royalty-free stock photos available: editorial and commercial licenses. Editorial licenses allow you to use the images within your print or digital publications as long as they are not for commercial or for-profit use. This license is usually limited to 250,000 copies.
Commercial licenses are more commonly used for businesses, and they're a lot more flexible in their usage terms. You can use them for marketing and advertising both digitally and in print. There is still a max number of copies you can make, generally 500,000, though. So, keep that in mind.
Royalty stock photos are great for all sorts of marketing, promotional, and business uses. But an important distinction needs to be made. Royalty-free doesn't mean actually free. That's a common misconception that many newbie designers make, and it's a faux pas that can cost you as well as your company a lot of money, time, and frustration. We've already covered what royalty-free means. So, here's a look at what it does NOT mean:
When you find royalty stock photos on your Google search, this doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. You can’t just copy and paste or download the image and use it wherever you want. You still have to pay for the image. It just means you don’t have to worry about the legal repercussions of using a photo that you didn’t take yourself or hire someone to take for you. By purchasing royalty-free photos, you waive the worry. But you still have to pay the price tag.
Yes, royalty-free images are yours for the taking. Once you have purchased them, you can use them in your marketing campaigns, design projects, and other business or personal use cases. But royalty stock footage and images aren't completely unrestricted. In fact, there are still certain use cases that are not allowed. For example, you cannot include royalty stock images in your website template if it's being designed to look like the person in the image is endorsing your brand or product (we'll cover other royalty stock photos restrictions in the section below). So, it's important to understand the parameters of the term royalty-free images before you utilize them in your most recent project.
Another distinction to point out is that when you purchase even the best royalty images, you aren't actually buying the images. You're only buying the license to use those images. The copyright still belongs to the artist that created the content in the first place. (That's what allows them to resell the image over and over again.) So, you're buying royalty-free photos, not copyright free ones.
Now, you understand that high-quality royalty images are yours for purchase, and they can be used in a number of situations. You also understand that they aren't to be used in some other situations and that it's important to distinguish between the two. Let's clarify exactly what the rules are, so you don't find yourself unwittingly entangled with an infringement lawsuit.
Congratulations! With the purchase of your own royalty stock images, you can:
- Use the images for as long as you want (unless otherwise stated by the specific stock photo service).
- Use the images wherever you want in the world. Legally, there are no geographical limitations to your royalty-free stock photo usage.
- Use the images in any and all allowed ways, including multiple formats and distribution methods.
- Use them for digital or online venues such as online marketing campaigns, on your website, or in emails.
- Use them as part of a creative project.
- Use them for print ads or promotional content.
- Incorporate them into multimedia presentations.
- For in-house design projects
- On print designs such as on t-shirts (not for resale)
- On book covers
But, not so fast. Before you go plastering those beautiful high-quality royalty images everywhere, remember that you can’t:
- Include the content in your logo, trademark, or designs.
- Transfer the right to use images to somebody else, be it a resell, share, or gift.
- Resell or redistribute the images.
- Abuse the royalty stock footage or content in any way, including using it for pornography, adult content, drug usage, or other morally inappropriate portrayals.
- Use them in a defamatory manner that implies negative connotations.
- Use the images to depict an endorsement from the subject of the image for a product that they do not actually endorse.
Now you know that royalty-free images are the legal way to use photos from the internet in your own personal or business projects, which is why most designers love royalty stock images. But here are some more reasons why:
Have you ever looked for that perfect design element, but just can't get it right? Royalty-free photo libraries are filled with millions (literally!) of content pieces for you to choose from. So, you can find just what you are looking for. The best royalty images sites have a host of media types as well. From high-quality royalty images to royalty stock footage, vectors, animations, and more, there's plenty of variety to browse through.
What’s more, royalty stock footage is a more affordable option for most businesses. Since you are purchasing the license, as we explained earlier, you only pay a one-time fee to use the content. This fee covers the image no matter how many times you use it (within the license terms). Rather than paying each time you want to use a photo, royalty-free stock images are a one-time fee that’s much more affordable than a continuous pay option.
Also, royalty-free images come pre-formatted and ready to roll. So, it makes this form of promotional content the ideal choice if you are looking for an image, footage, or something else in a pinch.
Since these are microstock photos, they're generally considerably less than the more exclusive midstock and macrostock photos you'll find on the web. Prices can vary from one service to the next, but they'll always be less than the rights-managed or other more extensive licensed images. You can expect to pay anywhere ranging from $1 to $15 for single high-quality stock images. But the best royalty images services offer bundles and subscriptions that bring the price down even more.
Psyched and ready to find the best royalty images on the web? There are thousands of microstock (aka royalty-free) images libraries out there. And a body can get lost in the endless stream of nature clips, holiday themes, and adorable puppies. Look for a reliable host that is known for providing high-quality royalty images. Some of the best royalty stock images come from sites like Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe, but there are plenty more. So, do your homework.