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Royalty-free images are not necessarily free, despite having the word “free” in the name. Royalty-free actually refers to not needing to pay a royalty percentage or fee to the copyright holder for each use of the item.
For example, a musician who licenses use of his song to a company for a television commercial may receive a royalty payment every time that commercial airs. Or a celebrity who allows the use of their likeness on the cover of a book might get a percentage of all book sales.
Royalty-free images require a one-time payment for use, and generally require no further payments after that. There are minor exceptions to this, but generally once you pay for a photo, you can use it once and you won’t have to pay any additional money for it.
If you intend to use a royalty-free image for a printed item or something like a book cover, be sure to read the license carefully. Most stock agencies require you to pay a higher fee for use on things like t-shirts and posters that will be sold, and for things like book covers, have a limit to the number of copies that can be sold before another purchase is required. (It’s usually 250,000 copies, and most of us don’t sell that many copies of a single book, but it’s worth noting, just in case.)