What happens when you see the word ‘free’? The general idea about that word is that whatever it’s placed on or is referring to, is completely free for us to get our grubby hands on it. And that’s not wrong. It is, essentially, free. So that brings us to the question, what does the ‘free’ part of Royalty-free really mean?

Royalty-Free: Is It Really Free?

Photo by Marek Uliasz, 123RF.

Royalty-free, or RF, refers to the right to use copyrighted material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use or per volume sold, or some time period of use or sales.”

Confused? We understand, so we’ve chopped up that chunk of text to better break it down to you. Basically, after the initial payment is secured for the content – in this case, photographs – from the licensor (a.k.a 123RF) to the licensee (aka your awesome self), multiple uses are permitted without additional payment.

Still unsure? Here’s a version that’s easier to digest: pay once, put the photo on a poster, print out some fliers, get it tattooed on your chest. Choose your own adventure!

Ultimately, you still have to pay for it somehow. So if you are Googling for free images and stumble upon a stock image library like ours, RF doesn’t mean you can take those images! That’s what copyright is all about (but that’s another story for later).

Hold on, what about Rights-managed (RM) licensing? Is it the same? Not quite!

It requires a more stringent agreement between the licensor and licensee with regards to multiple uses. Picture this, an RM image used on a T-shirt will need to be re-licensed for a fee if you plan to use it again.

While you get control and exclusivity on the image, you lose the flexibility of using your image anytime, anywhere at an affordable price. Now, that can be a Debbie Downer.

But you’re in luck! With the rise of digital imaging, royalty-free licensing is booming. Today, there are a vast majority of stock images licensed as royalty-free worldwide, out of which the 123RF library contributes millions.

For more information, check out our FAQ archives or learn about where you can apply stock photos.