Royalty-Free license explained

July 14, 2019 / by Alexandre Rotenberg


Understanding the nuances of Microstock licensure is crucial if you seek to optimize your workflow and profits as a stock photography contributor. As the Microstock industry evolves new models for selling the rights to your stock images emerge.

Many stock photographers forward complaints about their images being misused or stolen but distribute them on a website whose intellectual property licensure terms and agreements they have not carefully read. In this regard, herein is a comprehensive overview of the two main Microstock licensure models: Royalty Free (RF) and Rights Managed (RM).

The Royalty-Free (RF) Model

The RF model has been the backbone of the Microstock industry for a long time. In this licensing agreement, the customer pays a relatively low one-time licensing fee to an Agency. They may also opt for a long-term subscription plan.

RF stock images are typically very flexible. The right to use the image exists in perpetuity. This means that it does not expire. Traditionally, RF licenses depend on image size but increasingly depend on usage and subscription plans nowadays.

Exclusivity is not possible under an RF license. This means that multiple customers can license one of your stock images. The price of the RF license will be influenced by whether the stock image is being used for commercial or personal purposes as well as the number of reproductions.

It is worth noting that there are also Enhanced RF licenses, which allow customers to increase flexibility and rights so that they can reach a larger audience. These licenses are costlier than normal RF licenses and offer several benefits including larger print runs, file sharing, and increased indemnification.

The terms and conditions for Enhanced Licenses will differ depending on the Microstock Agency. As such, it is crucial that you carefully read the License Agreements and fine print.

The Rights Managed (RM) Model

The RM model is the traditional photographic licensure model where the licensee (customer) may use your stock image exclusively for a predetermined period. Under this licensure model, your stock image is licensed for ‘single use.’ Microstock Agencies that provide this model determine the price using complex formulas that are based on the customer’s intended use.

For instance, usage on billboards cost more than on books, commercial use for advertising is costlier than for editorial purposes, and worldwide usage would be more expensive than nationally or locally. A customer is required to negotiate new terms or extend the license for any additional use of your image since licensure is on a single-use basis.

Either way, you will earn more royalties as a contributor. Repeated renegotiation of RM licenses is quite common. An RM license offers the customer more control over your image and as a result costs considerably more than an RF license.

If you seek to maximize your income selling Microstocks, it is advisable to go for high volume. Ensure that you submit your RF stock images to a wide range of Microstock Agencies. This will allow you to attract the maximum number of consumers. As you increase the quality of your images, you can add your premium images as RM to the top Agencies.

However, it is very important that you utilize the same licensing model for the same stock images when you submit to different agencies. Submitting the same stock images with different licenses to different Agencies is against the contributor terms and conditions on virtually all sites. Doing this can get you a warning in the best-case scenario. Agency can also choose to ban you. In the worst-case scenario, you may even get sued.

Overall, Microstock Agencies are aware of the risks of complex legal obligations introduced to a crowd-sourced model consisting of millions of photographers. However, ignorance is never an excuse when it comes to the law.

You have to protect yourself since these oversights can seriously affect your venture as a serious commercial photographer. Ensure that you conduct regular audits to your portfolio. Oversights can happen when you have hundreds or thousands of stock images spread through multiple Microstock Agencies.

All photos can have Copyright notice attached to them. For personal photography this can be usually done via a watermark. However, it is also more professionally to add it as a metadata inside the picture. For example, you can add it in Xpiks:


Adding copyright will not prevent stealing on the internet, but it can have a legal benefit. Specifically, as noted at 500px:

the infringer cannot claim “innocent infrigement” as a defence if your work is publicly available with its proper copyright notice

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