If I use information or a photo that I got through a Google search, does that infringe copyright?

What is (and is not) allowed to be copied?



Courtenay, BC

Copyright laws in Canada exist to protect the copyright holder, who is typically the creator of a work. A work can be words, photos, illustrations — really anything creative that you can “see.” The main rule is that you can’t copy anything without permission of the copyright holder. But there are exceptions. 

Fair dealing is the main exception. It allows you to use copyright-protected work for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire, or parody.

If you’re writing an article that’s news, criticism, or a review, you can take a short excerpt from a copyrighted work, so long as you mention the source. You can include the hyperlink, title, and the author, perhaps in a footnote at the bottom of your article. If the article is satire or parody, you can also take a short excerpt, but you don’t need to mention the source. If you’re unsure, best to mention the source. 

You might be asking, what’s a short excerpt? It depends largely on what you are copying. Check out this page from the University of Ottawa which looks at a few common examples (like the difference between copying words from another article, or using a photograph).

Otherwise, if your plan is to use the copyrighted work outside of the fair dealing exceptions, be careful. Let’s say you have a camping supply business. If you just copy and paste a photo you found of folks enjoying a sunset, and use it on your homepage, you’d have to get the copyright holder’s permission. There are law firms and other agencies that troll the internet for unauthorized use of copyrighted works. You might get a demand letter asking you to pay up for your unauthorized use. Best to use Google’s filter that only searches for “royalty free” results, which are typically usable without any permission or fee required. Or, pay for stock photography.

David Kandestin

David Kandestin

People's Law School
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in August 2023

Also on this topic

Still not sure what to do?

If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, there are options for free or low-cost help.

Options for legal help

We are grateful to work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, whose Peoples continue to live on and care for these lands.