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For pictures of manufactured products, some lawyers say that you can't even get a copyright on the picture because of "lack of aritistic" content. Other lawyers will say that just the act of taking a picture is enough to create a copyright.
Sometimes the manufactures license material for their product. (Think of audio CDs. The likeness of a performer, or the name of a performer can be copyrighted - Think the artist formerly known as Prince). In this case, the manufacturer may have no problem with you using their pictures, but the owner of the copyrighted work may. If this is the case, you may be better off finding out by phone as you are unlikely to get approval to use the images in writing.
In all cases, it depends on what amount of risk is acceptable to you. You can be completely in the clear legally, have everything in writing and still be sued. You would win the lawsuit, but still be out lawyers fees.
Of course, this applies only to where I'm lifting a graphic of a "Branded Widget" product to sell Branded Widgets.
Sleazy sites will cop quality expensive photography (complete with models) from branded product sites to sell generic products. I think that's a clear copyright violation.
Can a photo be copyrighted? Try putting a Playboy centerfold on your site and see what they do to you. LOL
I do some of my own photography (NOT Centerfolds, alas). Takes me and hour or two to get one looking halfway good. I'd be furious if a competitor stole my
creation. Took me years to learn how to take and process graphics for the web. There's also the considerable equipment investment to make the pic.
That said we have always assumed that anyone who's product we resell won't mind us using their images - none of our suppliers sell their own products direct in our location, I'd be a little more cautious if they did.
as a retail website, is it fine to use the product photographs that are on the manufacturer's website?
They are the only ones you need to ask, assuming they own the copyright to the images. (There might be instances where they don't, but they are who I'd ask about that too - in the same sentence or two... something like "I assume you guys own the copyright to your product images. Do/Can I have permission to use those images to promote your products on my website(s)?")
Depending on the items, you might find that you can take better pictures yourself, that fit the style of your site.