Stock Photo Glossary

Table of Contents

Royalty Free

A common type of image use license that allows multiple uses of an image for the cost of a single purchase, compare this to Rights Managed. Royalty free licenses are usually on-running meaning that you can continue using images without charge once you have paid for the initial royalty free license. Royalty free images must not be confused with ‘free of charge / gratis’ images, royalty free images are not ‘free’.

Rights Managed

An image use license where a royalty is paid for each image use, e.g. use in a magazine with a print run of 30,000. To use the image again in a different publication would require the purchase of another license for that use. Rights managed can sometimes be cheaper for certain applications than buying a royalty free image. Sometimes called Rights Protected or Royalty Paid Images.


A layout composition (comprehensive) image – a ‘free’ image made available to test a design layout in the design process. Comp images are not licensed for use in finalised designs, and cannot be published. Comp images are often watermarked.
Extended License – A royalty free license that allows extra use not covered by a standard license, often this is things like additional print runs over 500,000 or merchandise use on printed products.


A very popular type of royalty free photo agency which sources its images from individual image contributors online. Microstock sites were made possible by the Internet and digital photography. The industry has been accused of exploiting image creators who are only paid a small royalty for each image downloaded. Microstock sites offer the best value to photo buyers in terms of paid images which offer a guaranteed level of quality and come from known, bona fide sources.


A full price or Traditional stock agency. The standard model in which an image library existed before microstock started to take a share of the marketplace. Macrostock agencies usually offer both royalty free and rights managed options with exclusive collections more likely to be rights managed.

Almost all images are copyright. It is a common misconception that stock images are ‘copyright free’ etc. When you purchase a stock image you are actually purchasing a license to use that image. The copyright is not exchanged when an image is sold, it is still held by the agency or photographer.


A legal agreement made between and image user and a photographer or agency to specify how an image can be used. When you download an image you are bound by this license which controls its use. Simply having downloaded a digital image does not necessarily mean you have correctly licensed it for use. An example might be where a file is made freely available for non-commercial use, but a license is required to use in a profit making commercial application. The use license is the document you need to read to answer the frequently asked question “Can I use the images for _?”

Public Domain

Often these are copyright free images, either provided without restriction by their creators or historic images out of copyright.

Creative Commons

A popular series of licenses used by photographers to share their work online. Creative Commons is also applied to more than just photography. A photographer maintains copyright but shares some of the usage rights freely. There are sometimes limitations on use in commercial applications and on how images can be modified. All Creative Commons licenses are attribution licenses which means you must credit the author with a printed photo credit or hyperlink.

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