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What is Royalty-Free?

Jeff Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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When you want to use someone else's art in a project of your own, you often have to pay a royalty. Some types of art are designated as royalty-free, and in this case, you do not have to pay the art's creator a royalty when you use it. If you want to use someone else's art on a limited budget, royalty-free art might be the way to go.

Creative works, including art, photography, music, movies, and software, are usually owned by their creator. If someone else wants to use someone's song in a commercial, or put one of their photos on a website, the creator often earns a royalty. The royalty is a payment for each use of the creative work.

Sometimes artists create work that they sell as royalty-free. If a piece of work is royalty-free, you can purchase the right to use the work without paying a royalty each and every time the art is used. This can sometimes be a very cost-effective way for someone to use a piece of art, music, or software. The savings associated with using royalty-free works are especially high when the work will be used over and over.

Royalty-free images are free of royalties, but they are not free to use without purchase. The creator of a royalty-free song or photo still owns the work. The software, movie, or other royalty-free work belongs to its creator, and you are allowed to use it for specific purposes by paying a fee. This is usually much less than you would pay in royalties for a similar piece of work, but you are still required to pay.

Artists create royalty-free works for a number of different reasons. Sometimes the work is shorter or more simple than their usual work, and they do not feel that it merits royalty payments. Sometimes they design the work specifically for the royalty-free market, and intend to sell the rights to their work to people who might not wish to pay royalties on another work. It is up to the buyer to decide whether the royalty-free work fits the needs of his or her project.

There is a lot of royalty-free work available for a number of purposes. If you're looking for stock photography to add spice to your website, a catchy melody for your movie, or a software program to add to your services, royalty-free works might offer you just what you're looking for at a very reasonable price.

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Jeff Petersen
By Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Creighton University and loves putting his skills to work creating captivating content for WiseGeek. Jeff's articles cover a broad range of subjects, keeping readers informed and entertained with his insightful writing style.
Discussion Comments
By anon353675 — On Nov 01, 2013

Great article, especially as many agencies, e.g., Getty Images, are now suing against breaches of royalty infringement. Someone got sued for USD 100,000 for using two or three images on their own website and social media site. There was no warning and they were personal sites!

By NightChef — On Oct 20, 2010

Many people make money off selling royalty-free pictures and royalty-free graphics. If you are the type of photographer that can take pictures of random objects as well as places than this might be the type of position that you can ask. What does require the self-discipline to be an entrepreneur and work for yourself, selling your photographs to a royalty-free stock photography website can provide a nice supplemental income to your budget.

If you're photographer interested in contracting with a stock photography website you want to do your research as to not be taken advantage of. Some stock photography websites sell the royalty-free images in the form of different kinds of creative Commons licensing. These different licenses will specify what the proper uses of the images are and what the rights of the original artist retained as a submit their work for purchase.

Stock photography websites will also differ in the way they pay photographers for their images. Some will allow you to submit photographs and will only pay you at those images are purchased by their clients. Others will pay outright for images that you submit but usually the application process from beginning to contract with this type of royalty-free stock website is more grueling process.

By spreadsheet — On Oct 20, 2010

If you are a photographer looking to avoid the high cost of purchasing royalty-free music for your slideshows there is an alternative that might consider. If you enjoy photographing live bands is common for these bands to go into agreements with photographers to share their creative content.

This means that the bands will trade you the use of your images and allow for copyright release to be placed for marketing purposes in exchange for the use of their creative songs and musical compositions in your commercial work.

These types of trading bartering between artists is very efficient and can avoid the profiteering that happens. Photography stock music companies. As independent artists are able to the organization and better unions on sharing creative content will be a freer flow of media across artists networks.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 20, 2010

@Ubiquitous, Has some excellent observations about royalty free music and the proper use as to avoid copyright infringement making photographic slide shows. There is also another form of media that uses royalty free concepts to provide content to artists.

Perhaps the most prime example of this royalty-free situation is the use of stock photography websites by advertisers, designers and marketing companies.

The purchasing of stock photography images allows for advertising companies to be able to use an image more than once when they purchased a proper license. These licenses for the use of royalty-free stock photography images is similar to the use of royalty-free music songs.

By Ubiquitous — On Oct 20, 2010

As a photographer I purchase royalty-free music as a means of getting musical background into my video slideshows. This does not come cheap and is quite pricey if I want excellent music that my customers and clients will enjoy.

There are likely many different websites that offer royalty-free music and songs to artists that are trying to use music in another compilation of their work. The fact that we don't have to pay money every time the video was shown or sold to a client makes dealing with billings and other complications that arise from royalty music that simply are too complicated for the average photographer or video artists use.

I recommend doing a basic Internet search to find the best royalty-free music site is for your needs. A variety of different types of licenses is offered as a means of purchasing the music. If you plan on using the music for more than one video you quite possibly will be charged to have an extended license purchased. Using music for a specific project for a single use is much cheaper in purchasing the music permanently.

If you are to use the music often and for many different slideshows because you especially like the song because if it's a style that you need and you might consider purchasing in bulk or paying for a permanent license as to avoid individual fees for each project that you complete.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A....
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