It is now easier than ever to share information on the web.

But it also presents legal risks if you are unaware of the licensing terms associated with using images.

It is no secret that images are becoming a necessary tool for all businesses.


We are a time poor generation that relies on the scrolling motion of our iphones, stopping only when something grabs our attention. Skim reading is the new “norm” and waiting for an image to jump out at us is the only reason we stop to read more.

We have such a small window of opportunity to attract a potential customer’s attention and the best way to do this is through using images or photos. It is now easier than ever to share information on the web but it also presents legal risks if you are unaware of the licensing terminology.

Most of us understand “plagiarism” and how it applies to written content but what about photography?

The confusion and misunderstanding of the legal terms used when sourcing images is becoming more and more prevalent as I research this blog.

But I plan to help clear this confusion up by answering the question “What are Royalty Free Images” in a way that will have you stay on the right side of the law.


Facebook: Images get shared more on Facebook with 87% of the top posts including pictures. 

Twitter: Tweets with pictures see a 35% increase in retweets.

The Basics of Stock Photography

Before I go on it helps to know what stock photography is and how it can be used.

Stock photography is the supply of photographs, which are often licensed for specific uses. They are professional photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events or people that are bought and sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial design purposes.

It is an excellent way for graphic designers, web publishers or anyone for that matter that requires the use of professional quality images at a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional photographer.

There are many websites that contain stock photos that people can purchase but stock photography distribution sites, like ShutterStock and Istockphoto, or independent photographers own the legal rights to these images.

To use these images you will have to pay for a license. For the most part there are two types of licenses available royalty free or rights managed and this is where the confusion begins.

Below is an example of a image with a copyright warning on it.

social media copyright images

What are Royalty Free Images?

“Royalty free”- Lets break this word down. Firstly what does Royalty mean? The dictionary states that a Royalty is “a sum paid to a patentee for the use of a patent or to an author or composer for each copy of a book sold or for each public performance of a work”. In plain English and relating to the use of images on the web this means “an agreed-on fee paid for each use of a commercial item.”

The term “Royalty Free” gives people the impression that it is free for them to use but this is not the case. What it does mean is that you pay a one off licensing fee and you can use that image for an unlimited amount of time on unlimited types of projects.

On the other hand a rights-managed license will have restrictions linked to it like:

  • duration of use
  •  the type of media it can be used for
  •  geographical location

This is just a few to mention but on the up side you will likely have more exclusive use of that image.

Is There Such Thing as Free Images for Commercial Use?

You will be happy to know there is. They are called public domain photos and are essentially copyright free images. This means you can use these images without the worry of copyright infringement. Public domain photos can be downloaded used and reused as much as you like for both commercial and private use.

There are quite a few websites for finding free images but my favourites are:







Another couple of sites worth mentioning are Wikimedia and Magdeleine. I haven’t used them personally but through researching this blog they are mentioned quite a few times and probably worth a look at.

Let’s Sum It Up!

All in all more and more businesses are joining the crazy online world of promotion and because of this there is a high demand for good quality images that are not going to break the bank or better yet are for free.

Although most people assume an image is for free if it is on the web this just isn’t the case.

The last thing any business owner or person needs is a legal battle relating to an image being used when it shouldn’t have. If there is ever a time when you are unsure of the legal use of any image or any other creative pieces Creative Commons is always a good place to seek help.

If you are still unsure whether you should use an image or if there is a licensing question mark associated with an image then it is probably a good idea to steer clear and look for another image on the websites I listed above. There are literally thousands of images that are for free and are great quality.

I really hope that this clears up the question “What are Royalty Free Images”. It really is an important thing to know especially now you know how important images are to your social media and website.

If you still have any questions please feel free to comment below.

Socially Yours