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I thought I could consolidate vendors and build a better relationship by doing more business in terms of numbers.
Now there is your approach. Go to them and talk about how you want to do more business with them and build a better working relationship -- if only you had the images. Let them know tactfully that without the images, it will be hard for you to do more business with them by shifting away from other suppliers.
My supplier lets me scan in any images I want from any of their literature. Plus, they also provide a CD that includes photos from most of their literature, as well as line art, logos and other useful stuff.
All I have to do is ask for the CD, and they send it out to me. I don't even have to pay shipping!
My advise is to continue to use their images to sell their products and even go as far as scanning the remainder of the 3000 or so images. This will give you 300% more items from a popular line of products and the potential to increase your revenues. At this point use them to your benefit while you have the chance and if they try to get you to remove the images, which I seriously doubt, well then it will be their loss.
Think about it. Are they going to take you to court to remove images of theirs you used to sell their products and put money in their pockets? How idiotic does that sound? You are definitely not using the images in bad faith and I think that would have to be the case for them to prove.
Another possibility is that the firm is taking heat from bricks & mortar retailers if you are selling for less. I've been in this situation, and the most important thing is volume - if you become more important than most of their other dealers, they'll turn a blind eye to your activity while reassuring their storefront dealers that they are cracking down on low-price web sales. I suspect that your current sales level doesn't make you one of their biggest dealers.
I like your idea of consolidating purchases to get the best pricing and service, but maybe this is just the wrong vendor. Good luck.