Using photographs and graphics? Be aware of copyright law

The internet makes it easy to download images that people from all around the world have posted online. When you discover a great photo that fits with your company’s advertising, you need to consider the legal consequences of using an image that appears to be available free of charge. If you did not create the image yourself, it’s important to ask “May I use this photo?”

While CFIB is not in a position to provide legal advice, we want to raise awareness about this topic with Canadian small business owners and their employees.


Photographs are one of the artistic works protected by Canada’s Copyright Act. Generally, if you take a photograph with your camera, you are the copyright owner.

In contrast, you are not the copyright owner when you take photographs:

  • With someone else’s camera
  • During the course of your employment

You may also need to consider copyright laws in other countries. The laws are often similar, but it is always best to discuss with your lawyer.


If you know who created the image you want to use, reach out to them for permission. Along with obtaining the copyright owner’s permission, ask how they want to be referenced. It may be as easy as “Photo Credit: insert name” and include a link to the original source.

Royalty-free Options

Here are a few services.Some are free and others require fees or subscriptions:


If using someone else’s images without permission, be aware of potential risks:

  • You may receive a phishing email from someone trying to trick you into paying money.
  • You may receive a message from the copyright owner, their lawyer or a company they hired to identify improper use of their work.

Should you receive a message demanding money or instruction to cease and desist using the images, contact a CFIB Business Counsellor. We can help you determine if the claim is valid and discuss next steps. CFIB’s advice may include the recommendation to seek legal counsel before responding to the message.