You’ve likely come across the phrase “royalty-free”. You may have seen it on music, stock photos, or any other kind of art. But what does royalty-free mean?
Businesses that use image or music licenses regularly will come across the phrase. Content creators and professionals that use video editing will also see the phrase displayed. Unfortunately, sometimes a professional or even a business will make the wrong assumptions about what royalty-free means.
There are more intricacies to copyright law than you may imagine. Small businesses often have a difficult time navigating copyright limitations. But following copyright law is important if you want to avoid disastrous legal battles. So, let’s go over the royalty-free descriptor and what you need to know about it.
After we go over what exactly royalty-free means, we will cover the related terms you should be aware of.
When it comes to usage, royalty-free content isn’t very different than content you pay royalties for.
Even if you don’t run a business or work with music or images much in your career, you’re consuming royalty-free content regularly. Even when you’re just watching a video on YouTube, you’re likely to see stock video or hear music that was played due to a royalty-free license agreement.
For content creators of all kinds, royalty-free translates into a cheaper long-term option. But the “free” in the term “royalty-free” can be misleading.
First, we need to start with one of the most common but damaging misconceptions. When something has a royalty-free descriptor, that does not mean it is free.
Copyrighted work is protected from use by others without formal permission and royalty payments. Royalties are a percentage of earnings that are paid to an intellectual property owner/ content creator.
When something has a royalty-free label, that means you may be allowed to use the intellectual property without paying royalties. But that doesn’t imply you can use the photo, video, or other property freely.
The creator of whatever image, video, music, or other work you are looking at is required to put the royalty-free label to allow customers to use it without royalty payments. Even without royalties, a person or business may gain the right to use a piece of intellectual property through a one-time lump payment or some other arrangement.
Whether or not something is royalty-free has little to do with its copyright protections.
The creator of any music, video, or image is automatically the owner of it. They don’t even need to register their copyright to gain legal ownership.
Copyright infringement is any unlawful use of intellectual property. That means that the image, music, or video you want to use, which you did not create or gain the right to use, is protected.
There does not need to be a warning for intellectual property to be protected by copyright. Copyright symbols, a watermark, or audio reminders in free music aren’t necessary for the owner to be able to go after you for copyright infringement.
So, do not confuse royalty-free with unlimited rights to use a piece of work you find online.
Normally, agencies, websites, and platforms of all kinds will want the fact their work is royalty-free to be displayed. The specific platform you use will do this in its way
For example, you can find royalty-free music on some platforms simply by using search filters. By typing “royalty-free music” on Google, you will find platforms like Spotify highlighting their soundtracks that are royalty-free.
You can do the same thing for other content providers as well. Stock photo sites normally offer search filters or entire sections for royalty-free images.
You can use a platform’s search filters or category sections to filter by licenses.
Copyright notices are normally displayed on the bottom of any relevant web pages. You will need to understand the rights of use that you are granted with different forms of protection. Some protected content will require royalties. Others may require one simple payment. Some may only require that you credit the copyright owner when you use the content.
Licensing agreements are the norm when you’re trying to use a person or platform’s music, photos, or other property. You may encounter the following terms when you’re browsing royalty-free music, images, and other content you find online.
The creative commons license is one of the most common public copyright licenses.
A creative commons license is a way that people and institutions of all sizes grant permissions for the use of their property. It is a standardized license that allows the free distribution of copyrighted property.
When you see this license displayed, it means that the owner wants to give others the right to share, use, and (importantly) build upon their work. It also protects people who redistribute their work from copyright infringement. But you still need to be careful, as this license often only allows for the non-commercial use and distribution of intellectual property. The license will specify exactly what kinds of use are permitted.
A free license is also known as an open license. It is a license agreement that offers 4 critical freedoms for users:
You will often come across the term “public domain”. In legal terms, the public domain is the domain in which no intellectual property rights exist. That means no:
The public owns anything considered public domain. But there are relatively few works that fall under the public domain. But you can find several works that are covered under this definition:
Beyond these areas, you can still find a small selection of music, movies, and images that fall under the public domain. That is because, after a certain amount of time, content will be considered public. Normally, this will be 50 years after the creator’s death.
If you’re in business, there is a good chance you need to use content created by professionals. Things like royalty-free music allow you to use the art for advertising without having to pay a royalty every time that content makes you money.
There are countless examples of situations where you need royalty-free content. It could be the background of an informational YouTube video. Or, a royalty-free image as a backdrop to your website. But you don’t even need to directly make money to get in trouble for using royalty-free content without permission. Even a casual social media post using an image you don’t own is not legally possible without permission from the owner.
In any of these cases, seeking royalty-free content can reduce the cost of using copyright-protected content.
Unless you specifically use royalty-free content, it is unlikely you will be able to use it freely. If the content isn’t labeled “royalty-free” you will probably have to pay royalties or go through legal action against you.
Choosing royalty-free content simply saves you money while ensuring you aren’t infringing on others’ intellectual property.
Stock photos are everywhere these days. They are used as they’re taken, or often edited and used for marketing purposes.
Royalty-free images allow you to continuously display licensed images for business purposes without having to pay royalties.
You can separate royalty-free images from those you need to pay royalties for easily. You can typically just change your search filters to only include those that are royalty-free.
As is the case with royalty-free music, there may be conditions to royalty-free images. However, if you have a royalty-free license for an image, you won’t have to foot the bill for any royalties.
Stock images that you must pay royalties for will often cut into your bottom line more than you’d like them to. But paying royalties for an image does not necessarily mean you’re receiving better quality.
The “royalty-free” label does not imply anything about an image’s:
With royalty-free images, you get the same rights that you get from images you pay royalties for. But you don’t have to pay more than you need to.
You can find royalty-free stock images or royalty-free images of any kind. Just be aware of which rights your license agreement provides you.
Royalty-Free Images are non-transferable, meaning only the buyer can use them. They are also non-exclusive, which means that anyone who acquires a license may use them.
One of the main benefits of royalty-free images is that once you buy them, you may use them as much as you wish. You will never have to pay royalties and there are no usage limits apart from those disclosed by the agency that provides them.
You can also use royalty-free images in many ways. You can physically print them, or make one of many digital uses.
Stock video is often used as a backdrop for all kinds of presentations. If you go on YouTube right now, you can find many informational and entertainment videos that consist of:
Stock video can add a lot of value to presentations. Video editing also usually starts with stock video. But royalties can cost a lot.
To keep your expenses lower, you can filter your searches to only royalty-free videos. As is the case with the other topics we’ve covered, royalty-free does not imply that stock video is good or bad. It simply describes the license agreement and thus the lack of royalty payments.
The music industry is notoriously well-protected when it comes to copyright law. Even simply YouTube videos can be muted by the platform for use of music without permission.
Using royalty-free music with permission is one of the most affordable ways to ensure your content has background music. That way, you don’t have to get into a disastrous legal battle, and you don’t need to pay pricey royalties over a long period.
Royalty-free music covers a wide range of the music industry. The royalty-free music label does not imply high or low quality. It does not imply a specific genre of music either. Royalty-free music also isn’t limited to just stock music.
There is a catch to royalty-free music. Royalty-free music isn’t necessarily completely royalty-free.
That may sound ridiculous, but there is a good legal reason for it. Royalty-free music licenses will often come with stipulations. The most common ones are that they don’t include “public performance” royalties. So, if you’re using royalty-free music for TV ads or at public events, someone may still need to pay royalties. But it is normally not you.
We understand that this can be confusing. But the reason for this confusion is that the TV broadcaster or host of a public performance event will have to pay royalties to the artist. Performing Rights Organizations are typically responsible for distributing public music performance royalties. However, the one who buys the royalty-free license won’t have to pay.
In most cases, yes!
Royalty-free music and other content save you a ton of money you would otherwise spend on licensing fees. It is a simpler option that also provides you with more usage rights. When you use an image, it will normally be displayed for a long time. So, it makes sense that you have free use of your content after you buy.
No matter what music or images you want to use, having it royalty-free is better for you in the long run. This is especially true when it comes to music.
We’ve already gone over the benefits of not having to pay royalties. However, royalty-free licenses are also cheaper from the start.
The rate you pay for a royalty-free image will depend on the agency you’re shopping with. But overall, they are cheaper than other licensing types. In the end, you spend less money overall and don’t have the hassle of having to pay royalties every time you use the image.