MONOLITH LAW OFFICE+81-3-6262-3248Weekdays 10:00-18:00 JST



What is the Scope of Use for Royalty-Free Images, Photos, and Other Materials?


What is the Scope of Use for Royalty-Free Images, Photos, and Other Materials?

When creating a website for your company, you may find yourself using materials available on the internet. In doing so, you might come across materials labeled as “royalty-free”. From the term “royalty-free”, some people might assume that these are materials for which no royalty needs to be paid, and that they are similar to free materials. However, even though the term “free” is used in both “royalty-free” materials and “free” materials, they do not refer to the same type of materials. As such, many people find it difficult to distinguish between royalty-free materials and free materials due to their similar names. In this article, we will first explain what royalty-free materials are, and then discuss the scope of use for royalty-free materials.[ja]

What is Royalty-Free Material?

How does royalty-free (RF) differ from free material?

Royalty-free (RF) refers to works that can be used continuously, such as multiple uses, without paying additional royalties, as long as it is within the usage range agreed upon in advance between the parties. Royalty-free is often referred to as RF, taking the initials of its name. It’s important to note that even though it’s called royalty-free, it doesn’t mean that there are no royalties at all. Once you pay the royalty, no additional royalties will be charged.

Furthermore, even if the use of royalties continues, it is usually prohibited by the terms of use to allow third parties to use the material. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully check the terms of use.

Benefits of Royalty-Free Materials

There are primarily two main benefits to using royalty-free materials.

Reduction in the complexity of procedures

When using materials for multiple purposes, it is generally required to obtain a license for each purpose. However, if the materials are royalty-free, there is no need to obtain a license each time within the scope of use. Therefore, using royalty-free materials can potentially reduce the complexity of procedures required for material usage.

Potential for lower royalty costs

With a fixed royalty payment, you can repeatedly use the materials within the scope of use. Therefore, if you frequently use the materials for various purposes, the royalty costs may be lower than obtaining a license each time.

Disadvantages of Royalty-Free Materials

Firstly, one potential disadvantage of using royalty-free materials is the possibility of high royalty costs. With royalty-free materials, it is assumed that the materials will be used repeatedly, and the royalty fee is set accordingly. Therefore, if you plan to use the material only once, it might be cheaper to obtain a license through the usual method rather than using royalty-free materials.

Another disadvantage is that because these materials can be used repeatedly, they may also be used by many others. This could result in your chosen materials being the same as those used by others. As a result, the same royalty-free materials may be used across multiple sites, making it difficult to establish originality on your company’s website.

About the Scope of Use for Royalty-Free Materials

Firstly, Article 63 of the Japanese Copyright Law (著作権法第63条) stipulates the following about the permission to use copyrighted works:

(Permission to Use Copyrighted Works)
Article 63
1. The copyright holder can permit others to use their work.
2. Those who have obtained the permission mentioned in the previous paragraph can use the copyrighted work within the scope and conditions of the permission.

When using royalty-free materials, as stipulated in the above article, it is necessary to use them “within the scope and conditions of the permission”. The scope of permission for the use of royalty-free materials may be defined in the terms of use, for example, in the following types of provisions:

Private Use

When using for personal purposes, you can freely use within the range defined in the terms of use.

Commercial Use

This refers to the act of using royalty-free materials for the purpose of making money, not for personal use. If you are using royalty-free materials on your company’s website, you need to check the terms of use to see if commercial use is allowed. Even if commercial use is permitted, there may be cases where certain actions, such as selling products printed with royalty-free materials, are prohibited.

Individual Use

This is a matter of who can use the royalty-free materials. Only individuals can use them.

Corporate Use

This is also a matter of who can use the royalty-free materials. In order to use them as a corporation, corporate use must be permitted. If a corporation uses the materials despite only individual use being permitted, it could potentially infringe on copyright laws.


It is also necessary to thoroughly check the provisions regarding modification. There is no problem if you use the materials as they are, but for example, if you cut out a part of the royalty-free materials and use it, it could potentially infringe on copyright laws if modification is not permitted.

Credit Notation

When using royalty-free materials, the terms of use may stipulate that a credit notation is necessary to indicate the copyright. The terms of use may also stipulate the method of credit notation, so you need to make a credit notation according to the method stipulated in the terms of use.

Link Posting

The terms of use may require you to post a link to the site providing the royalty-free materials. The method of link posting may also be stipulated in the terms of use, so you need to thoroughly check the terms of use.[ja]

The Importance of Checking Terms of Use

Make sure to thoroughly check the terms of use on sites that provide royalty-free materials.

Almost all sites that provide royalty-free materials have terms of use in place. Therefore, it’s crucial to thoroughly check these terms to understand the extent of permitted use and what actions can be taken with the materials. What may be considered acceptable under the terms of use on one site may be prohibited on another. So, when using royalty-free materials, it’s important not to assume that an action is acceptable without checking the terms of use. Instead, it’s essential to carefully review the terms of use on each site that provides royalty-free materials.


In conclusion, we have explained the scope of usage when materials on the internet are labeled as “royalty-free”. When using royalty-free materials, it is crucial to fully understand what kind of materials they are, consider the pros and cons, and then decide whether to use them or not. Furthermore, when using royalty-free materials, do not simply assume that there will be no issues with freely using them. Instead, make sure to thoroughly check the terms of use posted on the websites providing these royalty-free materials. By carefully confirming what purposes and actions are allowed under the terms of use, you can avoid infringing on the copyright of the materials. As the terms of use often contain many legal terms, it is advisable to seek advice from a lawyer if you wish to confirm the scope of usage for royalty-free materials.

Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

The Editor in Chief: Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

An expert in IT-related legal affairs in Japan who established MONOLITH LAW OFFICE and serves as its managing attorney. Formerly an IT engineer, he has been involved in the management of IT companies. Served as legal counsel to more than 100 companies, ranging from top-tier organizations to seed-stage Startups.

Return to Top