When buying stock photos, contracting a photographer, or purchasing images from events these three terms will usually come into play. Here is a brief overview of how you can purchase the right to use an image.
Royalty-free images: This simply means you can use the image over and over again, as many times as you would like, without paying any addition money (royalties) to the creator. This does not mean the image is free to use if you have not bought it. Be sure to read over the terms when buying images, as sometimes even royalty-free images can have limitations to how they can be used. These images also can be sold by the image creator to other individuals or companies for their use, so their is a chance you might run into the same image somewhere else. That is just a fair warning, I buy all three of these license types of images and I have never had a problem with royalty-free ones. Even if someone did see the image elsewhere, I would rather that happen than having a visitor leave your site due to poor quality images.
Right’s Managed images: These images are ones that you purchase the right to use a certain number of uses or for a set amount of time. Many times, this allows the photography to retain some control over their image or sell the exclusive rights to it after you are done using it. This allows you to purchase higher end images at cheaper prices that buying it outright from the photographer (exclusive rights or use).
Exclusive Rights to images: This is when you are, in effect, purchasing all the copyrights to an images from its creator. This is usually very expensive and requires some kind of legal knowledge / contracts. Once you own exclusive rights to an image, no one else can use that image — not even the original creator. You could sue the creator for using it just as if it was your original work. Buying exclusive rights to images is often times not needed, most web and basic business uses being that way. At times, when you contract photographers to photograph an event you can pay to have exclusive rights of all the images — for a very high price.