“What does ‘royalty-free’ REALLY mean? Can I use it for free??” NOPE!!!

“What does ‘royalty-free’ REALLY mean? Can I use it for free??” NOPE!!!

Q –

On a stock photo website, I found a photo that I’d really like to use on my book cover. It says “royalty-free” but they want to charge me for the photo. Doesn’t royalty-free mean anybody can use the photo for anything…for free??

-L.V.


A –

No, and that’s a common misconception. Royalty-free means you can use the photo, but only after purchasing it. After that, you do not need to then pay the copyright holder for royalties after-the-fact.

For example, a photographer might require a down-payment for a photo, and then a share of the royalties from future book sales. Some allow authors to pay to use the photo for a specific number of copies printed. Then, the author must pay more later if they print, say, more than 500 copies.

If a photographer, artist, or stock photo agency sells you a royalty-free graphic, that means you can pay one time, and use the photo on your cover forever. But, be sure to read the fine print in case the item is incorrectly listed as “royalty-free,” or in case there are special limitations involved with the sale or use of the image.

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