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Hopefully, this isn't too off-topic or repetitive.

I'm writing my dissertation, and I am finishing up the last chapter discussing some of the experiments I did. In that chapter, I discuss a pump I ordered from a seller on Amazon, and the website has a perfect exploded view CAD drawing of the pump for my use.

I want to use this image, and I have already contacted the seller in the comments to see if I can use the picture. But I'm not sure I will get a reply.

I've looked online and found resources that say I can use the image without citation, saying it falls under fair use. Others say that I need to get written permission from the seller and from Amazon itself. This question says it's all about copyright, and I agree; I don't know 1) whether the image is copyrighted or 2) who to reach out to to get the most direct reply.

Are the images the seller uploads on Amazon copyrighted? And if so, can I go to the author or should I contact someone at Amazon directly?

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  • If you are in the US, the copyright laws will make life very difficult for you. Could you simply do a tracing of the CAD image on photoshop, or another software? If you create a traced image that is a little different from the original, and you credit the original image in your paper with a link, then you should be able to claim fair use. If that's not possible, then the amazon CAD image is almost certainly copyrighted to one of these entities: 1) its creator; 2) its manufacturer. Amazon sellers only get a license to display the image, but own no copyright. Note: I'm not a lawyer.
    – djohn
    Nov 26 at 11:36
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    @djohn, your mechanism for copying is still copying and makes no difference under copyright law. Even with minor changes. An image can be considered a "complete work" even when embedded within another.
    – Buffy
    Nov 26 at 13:53
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    "Fair use" has to do with copyright. "Citation" has to do with giving credit. Even is an image can be used under the fair use doctrine, you should still cite it, giving credit to the source of the image.
    – Bob Brown
    Nov 26 at 14:27
  • @Buffy Understood, thank you for the correction! I really wasn't sure about it.
    – djohn
    Nov 26 at 15:46
  • @BobBrown, correct, but the OP should seek out the original source, which is very unlikely to be Amazon. Also, Amazon pages aren't necessarily stable.
    – Buffy
    Nov 26 at 16:00
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I'm going to guess that there is a solution, though it is a bit of a grey area. First, copyright can only be applied to "creative works", so the question first arises whether such a figure is "creative". In particular, most images that you find in patents are not subject to copyright (see the accepted answer). Second, one of the important distinctions in "fair use" is whether use of the image (or whatever) reduces its commercial value, which isn't the case here. That is, the commercial value of the image itself, separate from the product it represents. Third, the fair use exemption for scholarship is a bit broader than in general. Fourth, while minor violations often occur, they have to be severe enough (usually in the commercial value area) to cause someone to sue you.

However, Amazon isn't the copyright holder but holds, at best, a license for use of the image. Any copyright would be held by the product's creator (most likely) and you might be able to find an "official" version of the image on the company web site, along with explicit permission to use the image.

If you want to be utterly sure, contact the company (or a lawyer, perhaps at your university), explain your use, and ask permission. Hopefully you aren't pointing out flaws in the product, which would make them touchy. But it then comes back to the question whether the image is "creative" in any sense and whether it has any value in itself, separate from the product it represents (the patent issue again).

My conclusion is that, while it is, perhaps a grey area, it isn't so dark-grey as to cause concern. But use the "official" version, not Amazon's.

Note: This isn't legal advice, but only one person's interpretation of the issues and likely outcomes. IANAL.

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  • Thanks I'll try to contact the company directly then and see what they have to say.
    – WnGatRC456
    Nov 26 at 14:56
  • I wouldn’t think there’s any legal doubt about whether a figure from a scientific article is creative or not. You might be able to make that case to one federal judge, but I think you’d lose that case on appeal. The data is probably not copyrightable in the US. But, its arrangement can be considered creative.
    – Bill Barth
    Nov 26 at 18:27

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