Also termed as RF, Royalty Free, a suitable expression floating around the internet world, indicates to the rights of usage of available copyrighted intellectual property such as photographs or images or pictures, with certain conditions (or with none) without having to pay royalty or license fees. Many usually need images to reproduce them to embellish their products, projects, blogs, e-book covers or websites to be able to express more lucidly than text thereby engaging the audience effectively and such images benefit such people. And there are many who willingly love to share their pictures on the public domain for free or for a small price. On the other hand, the royalty managed licenses provide extra comfort knowing that a direct competitor or any other industry is less likely to be using the same images that royalty free license cannot afford to. In the case of royalty managed licenses the purchaser and the seller agree to certain conditions that provides the assurances. Royalty free images serve more as tools for designers with plenty room for handling, altering and creating newer objects. Royalty managed pictures are made with certain objectives in mind and they tell a story and that the user can use for a greater and assured commercial benefit. For a smaller project that will contain many different images, royalty free works best, but if the project becomes larger than originally expected, for example, the trial goes from 100 prints to 5,000, the original royalty free agreement may need to be revised and the stock company may ask for higher compensation for the images.
Returning to royalty free images, most times these images are non-transferable, cannot be given on exclusive basis, a user can use them in multiple projects, can be used for as long as one wishes (perpetual) and can be used worldwide. Many industry standards charge royalties. Yet there are many open and proprietary Royalty-free standards that do not comprise any per-port or per-volume or per-use charges or annual payments for the use of the standard, even though the text of the actual specification is typically copyright protected and thus needs to be bought from the relevant authority.
It always pays to pay attention to purported sites that appear “free”. What may be free to download may not be free to publish in a new project that earns you money. Then there are some which you may use in your project but exercise caution before you reproduce them on T-shirts or coffee mugs or DVDs. All images are owned by someone or the other. In general, the photographer owns the copyright on the picture. So that you don’t end up tangled in a legal trouble, it is crucial to ensure the site has signed up releases with the owner of the picture or the image. There have been instances of people having to cough up as much as $650 for unintentionally infringing a copyrighted material, that too, one single image, of a celebrity. Creative Commons, a non-profit body, licensing allows creators of the images to set different levels of licensing to the public in general. It is always wise to check out the guidelines, rules for use, and restrictions before submitting to the tempting images. Penalties are steep. If the copyright owner proves a willful infringement on its reproduction or distribution rights, then it can multiply 5-6 times. Do not ignore the attorneys’ fees!
One must give enough thoughts if the image she or he intends to use is commercial by purpose. No reason to lose heart here though; not all images charge even if one’s purpose is commercial.
There are certain criteria that if kept in mind, help in selection of the images. One such criterion is the size. The other is the quality. Both govern the prices. Smaller and inferior the quality, cheaper the cost. If quality is of great importance, you may consider images that come for as little as $0.20. Such charges free you from the bother of including attributions. Some conditions to use an image may require you to include an attribution (such as a credit to him / her, a link to his / her website).
Having discussed about most cautions, there are plenty sites if you go look for them. Some have thousands of pictures and images and hundreds being added every day.