I was answering a question posted by a Facebook friend about where to find free royalty-free images, and while perusing my blog for another article, I found several comments on that article that somehow I had missed.
One of the comments was a great question: “I read somewhere yesterday that just because an image is ‘royalty free’ does not mean that it has unlimited use and most cannot be used on a poster or a book that will be sold. Can you explain this?”
If you’re using the image to sell a product, such as a mug with only that picture on it or a poster made of just the picture and a tiny bit of text, you’re really selling the picture, not the product. In that case almost all “royalty free” sites have an “extended license” you can purchase to allow you to use it for products like that.
Books are different than POD (print-on-demand) products. While books CAN be printed with POD technology, they’re not considered POD products. While the image enhances the book cover, usually it’s the author’s name, book title, and what the book is about that sells the book – not the image itself.
Therefore royalty-free images are used on book covers a lot, and it’s perfectly fine.
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