What is Royalty Free and What Does it Mean for Your Small Business?

What Does Royalty Free Mean?

You’ve probably seen the term “royalty-free” before — perhaps on stock photos, background music or other types of intellectual property. But what exactly does it mean?

Copyright law can be complicated for small businesses to navigate. But it is important that you at least get the basics down so you can avoid legal trouble. And “royalty-free” may be one of the most important related terms for your to be aware of.

Here’s what you should know about the royalty-free descriptor and how it can impact your business.

What Does Royalty Free Mean?

Normally, copyrighted material is protected and cannot be used without permission and payment of royalties. Royalties are usually a percentage of earnings or recurring payment made to a creator or intellectual property owner.

Royalty free is a term that is used to describe certain types of intellectual property that you’re allowed to use without having to pay royalties. The intellectual property owner must specifically put this label on their content in order for anyone to use it in this way. In some cases, a business or individual can also gain rights to use an image or other piece of content by making a one-time payment.

How Can You Tell When Something Is Royalty Free?

This is something that depends on what platform or tool you’re using to search for images, music or other content. Many photo sites like Shutterstock have sections or search filters that are specifically for royalty-free images. YouTube also has an audio library that you can search. And it allows you to filter by license so you can access only royalty free sounds if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you’re not on a site that lets you filter or search through royalty free items specifically, then you should look for a copyright notice, which is usually located near the bottom of the page. Some may require payment, others may only need attribution or credit. If you don’t see something that specifically says the piece of content is royalty-free, then it is probably not available for free use.

Why Does Your Business Need to Know About Royalty Free Content?

There’s a good chance that your business may want to re-post photos, videos or audio content at some point. Perhaps you want to include a song in the background of your next YouTube video or need a stock photo to accompany your latest blog post. It can even impact your social media content if you re-post images from other users who did not give you express permission to use their content without payment.

If you choose copyrighted images or music that is not labeled as royalty-free, you either need to pay royalties to the creator or potentially face legal action for using that content without permission and/or payment. So essentially, choosing items with the royalty-free tag can help you save money when creating your own content while also making sure that you’re not violating any intellectual property law.

Photo via Shutterstock


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

2 Reactions
  1. Check out Pexels.com right now. You can thank me later.

  2. It is important to understand these terms as well as other forms of licenses. This will help you understand what you are using.