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Royalty-Free ≠ Free Images in Stock Photos

Royalty-Free ≠ Free Images in Stock Photos

I’m been getting a lot lately from freelancers asking me if they could download and use images from Royalty-free stock photo sites like

Well, the answer is NO.

It is confusing for many, especially first-timers, looking online for images to use on their sites or presentations. The problem is the word “royalty-free” suggests that no royalty fees need to be paid to the owner in order to use their work. Hence, it must be free. On the contrary, when it comes to images, this is something quite different.

And I quote Wikipedia on royalty-free images:

“In photography and the illustration industry, it refers to a copyright license where the user has the right to use the picture without many restrictions based on one-time payment to the licensor. The user can therefore use the image in several projects without having to purchase any additional licenses. RF licenses can not be given on an exclusive basis.”

So royalty-free image are not really free images. You would need to purchase a one-time license from the liscensor (i.e. the stock photo website offering the image) in order for you to legally use the image on your website. In other words, you need to pay to use royalty-free images.

Some Free Image Websites

While there are aplenty of stock photo sites, only a few truly offer free images with no restriction.

First there are royalty-free image sites (paid), which we’ve talked about above.

Dreamstime terms of use
Click to enlarge

Next, there are sites such as and that allows you to use their images provided that you give a photo credit / author attribution under the creative commons attribution license or in their own terms.

It is great in a way because you don’t have to pay for these images, and you can modify and use them on the sites as you wish, so long you make sure that you comply with the terms (which you should check on their site) and attribute back to them.


Lastly, the truly free image repositories. The below are my favorites.



You can download all their images and use them for personal or commercial purposes, without the need to ask for permission or attribute the image back to them. Particularly useful when you direct your freelancer to use images on this site for your projects, knowing that you won’t get into any trouble later on.



Another website where you can download images for free. Although they suggest that you attribute the photos downloaded from their sites, it is not compulsory.

This website is nifty and works like a search engine. It searches and collates images from up to 11 sources based on your search query. You can use the advance search filter to remove images that requires attribution. I did a simple video to show my freelance how she could do it. I’ll share it with you here. 🙂


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