Obituaries and Copyright – Canada Court Decision

Standard Disclaimer:

I am not an attorney and any comments I post are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a legal expert who is familiar with the area of legal expertise you need.

I research copyright rulings on a regular basis and obituary-related copyright rulings on a semi-regular basis, both in the U. S. and in other countries as courts can make rulings in one country that may wind up being used in other countries. It’s not always true that a court ruling in one country may not hold true in another country, but it helps give me a feel for how different countries handle copyright infringement lawsuits. It’s also possible you could get a copyright infringement lawsuit from another country. I have relatives who died and are buried in Canada so if I used an obituary from Canada without getting permission from the copyright holder, then I could be potentially be sued.

In addition to the below links, I will include my take on ways to avoid or reduce the risk of copyright infringement lawsuits for using obituaries.

Obituary-pirating website ordered to pay victims $20 million:

‘Obituary piracy’ website ordered to pay $20M to grieving families:

Judge orders obituary website to pay $20-million in damages for unauthorized use of notices, photographs:

Obituary Piracy Assessed:

Obituary Piracy Assessed:

Lawsuit against obituary website alleges copyright infringement:

Lawsuit launched against obituary website alleges copyright infringement:

Class action copyright claim takes on ‘obituary piracy’:

When I find an obituary that I want to use for my own genealogy or on a graving site like Find-A-Grave, I re-write it in my own words and my own format. In many ways, my format is kind of a reverse order format that many newspapers use in their obituary listings. This gives me a copyright for my version of the obituary. Be warned that “fair use” is a fairly restricted concept and many countries do not allow “fair use” exceptions. Posting an obituary (screenshot or verbatim transcript) on pay or commercial sites like, YouTube, Facebook, is probably not going to fall under “fair use” exceptions. Yet, I routinely see people citing “fair use” on YouTube videos when “fair use” doesn’t apply.

While facts can’t be copyrighted (in the U. S. anyway), the way they are presented can be copyrighted. You may also have different copyright owners for an obituary. The person(s) who wrote the obituary hold one copyright; for funeral homes and newspapers, they may hold separate copyrights for their digital versions online.

For websites like GenealogyBank,, Newsbank, Newspaper Archive, etc., they may hold copyright for the digital versions on their websites even if the original non-digital version of the obituary is now in the public domain.

About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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