There are several types of stock media licenses you need to be aware of when you buy or sell stock photos. Royalty-Free is the most common license, Rights Managed offers exclusivity, and Extended License allows for extra uses. You should carefully read all licensing terms and conditions of each stock photography agency, as permissible uses may vary.

What are the main Stock Media Licenses?

Royalty-Free (RF) License

Commonly known as a Standard License – it means your image can be used multiple times without paying a royalty. It is usually chosen by budget-minded designers, who do not want to spend a fortune on hiring a professional photographer. RF images are non-exclusive, meaning you can sell them multiple times to many customers (and on other stock photo agencies including your own website).

Extended / Enhanced (EL) License

Presently most stock photo agencies allow customers to purchase an Extended or Enhanced License that gives them permission to extend the uses of a previously licensed work (usually Royalty-Free). It may include increased number of copies, use for resale purposes (prints, postcards, calendars, t-shirts, greeting cards, mugs, etc.). It also allows for other methods of distribution and use.

Rights Managed (RM) License

It gives exclusive, time-limited use of a stock image. RM licenses are granted on a pay-per-use basis. It means your stock image can only be used by the licensee for one particular project, only for a set period of time, and/or only in specified geographical area. Rights managed images are expensive, but designers are willing to pay for it in order to make sure nobody else can use the artwork or to be able to run more prints.

As announced in 2019, Getty Images is phasing out Rights Manages license in 2020 to simplify their licensing terms.

Editorial License

Some agencies now accept Editorial Use Only images. It means the images can only be used in: a newspaper or magazine article, on a blog or website for descriptive purposes, (in a non-commercial presentation) and cannot be used for commercial advertising purposes.

Creative Commons License (CC)

Creative Commons licence is an international and well-known license that allow authors to give permission to users to freely use, share and redistribute the content provided they (the users) abide by the conditions specified by the authors. Usually the creators waive their copyrights and related rights as long as it is permissible by the provisions of law. The licenses differ by several combinations of permitted use and can be restricted to non-commercial use, attribution, share-alike, or no derivative works.


Most of the stock photo agencies use Royalty-Free, Extended/Enhanced and Editorial Licence, while very few offer Rights-Managed or Creative Commons License.

As an example, Dreamstime offer CC0 License for a selection of files included in their free photos section, while JumpStory have their entire collection available under this license.

I suggest you always read the “small print” to make sure you know how and where you are allowed to use the content you purchase (or download for free).

Do you know any agencies or websites that offer licensing terms different to those described above?

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