Royalty Free Image – Licenses and Restrictions on Usage

A picture can communicate many things. And there is absolutely no way we can blog or post on social media without images. Here are a few things about royalty-free images and their licenses.

Types of licenses

Royalty free (RF) image licenses are obtained to use the stock images for various purposes. There are three different types of RF licenses mainly Commercial, Editorial, and Extended RF license.

Commercial Royalty Free License – On obtaining this license, RF images or photos can be widely used for different commercial purposes including in advertising, graphic designs, websites, in-house designs and many more. However, the limits on distribution still apply. Most of the agencies enforce a limit of 500,000 copies but some allow just 250,000 copies. For multimedia uses like TV and film, the restriction depends on the budget of the project.

Editorial Royalty Free License – This license restricts the use of RF images for commercial purposes. It only allows the use for editorial purposes, like illustrating or enhancing the text in the digital prints or publications. Use of royalty free photos for commercial purposes can be strictly against the law. This can make you accountable for penalties or compensations. The distribution limits apply the same as commercial RF license. The maximum run limit is 500,000 copies and some allow only 250,000 copies.

Extended Royalty Free License – Standard RF license does not permit the use of stock photos in web templates, ebooks, book covers, on t-shirts, packaging etc. To use it in any of the above mentioned ways, one needs to obtain extended RF license, this way you will have no restrictions on the use for a multimedia purpose or for resale purpose.


After gaining the license, it is good to read and understand the terms and conditions of the license agreement, so as to avoid discrepancies in the future. Some of the common restrictions which you need to be aware of are as below:

Sharing – Unless you have obtained a subscription for multiple users, you cannot share the RF license rights with other users on the network. In case you transfer the rights or share the access as a gift to the third person. You could be violating the terms of license agreement.

Reselling – It is forbidden to resell or distribute your own RF license. The Royalty free images purchased need to be a part of your creative project and cannot be sold as a standalone product. For example, the RF images can be a part of your t-shirt design or a banner.

Use of RF photos or images for obscene projects can be strictly against the law. Obscene projects include adult entertainment uses or pornographic uses.

Using in trademark – You should also keep in mind that the RF images cannot be used as a part of logo or trademark. The use of images with models to endorse a product or any services can be against the rules.

Misuse of RF images which includes a property or a model with a negative impression is strictly restricted. For example, you should avoid using the RF images with respect to sensitive topics.

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