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Let's say I make a photo of iPhone screen through the microscope, so field of view of the photo is just several pixels and individual RGB components of the screen are visible - so it's not possible for a non-specialist viewer to know this is from an iPhone. And I want to use this photo commercially (for example, by selling merchandise with it).

Can this infringe Apple's or the screen manufacturer's rights? (copyright, trade marks, design patents, etc.) Does it matter if I label the photo as iPhone screen?

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Photographs of physical objects do. Not infringe copyright. You are not making an iPhone so there are no patent issues. Go for it.

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  • What about trademark issue if the iPhone name is mentioned in the caption? – Sergii Dymchenko Nov 4 '18 at 0:20
  • Photographs of physical objects sometimes can infringe copyright, no? For example, commercial photos of Seattle Space Needle, or Eiffel Tower at night. Or commercial photos of Disney figurines. – Sergii Dymchenko Nov 4 '18 at 4:16
  • @SergeyDymchenko Nope - The photo has copyright but anyone can take them. – Dale M Nov 4 '18 at 10:25
  • @DaleM, sometimes photographs of physical objects can infringe copyright. This is one of the things that varies greatly from country to country. (The Space Needle is fine, since US law specifically exempts photographs of buildings from copyright infringement; the Eiffel Tower is a copyright violation.) – Mark Nov 6 '18 at 3:03
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I'm assuming you're interested in United States law here.

The question of patents is easy: patents are about giving someone a limited monopoly to produce something in exchange for them disclosing how they did it. You're not making a cell phone here, so patent issues don't apply.

Trademark is nearly as easy: any use of the "iPhone" name is likely to be nominative use, where you're using the name to refer to the actual product by Apple. There's no problem with doing this.

This leaves only copyright. You're indisputably copying something that Apple created, so the question becomes one of "is the physical design of the iPhone screen copyrightable?". The answer there is a clear "no", on two grounds. First, an iPhone screen doesn't fall under any of the categories of things that can be copyrighted, and second, useful articles can't be copyrighted even if they do fall into one of those categories.

So, your proposed close-up photos don't infringe on any of Apple's intellectual-property rights. Go ahead and make them.

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  • Thanks! Can you explain why Adobe stock disallows iPhone-related images: helpx.adobe.com/stock/contributor/help/… ? "Apple logos and product designs are protected. Vectors and illustrations are also unacceptable." Also, that page has more interesting cases, like Absolut bottle design is a trademark even without logos. – Sergii Dymchenko Nov 6 '18 at 4:46
  • Adobe is being more conservative than the law requires, in order to produce a collection of stock images that can be used without having to think about intellectual-property issues. – Mark Nov 6 '18 at 20:48

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