Corbis, the digital image archive founded and owned by Bill Gates, has signed a two-year contract with the Warhol Foundation to become the exclusive agent for digital images of Warhol and his work.
The company is launching a Warhol website this month offering more than 500 images for editorial and commercial use. The images of works spanning the artist’s entire career, with drawings from the 1950s, self-portrait photographs, and all the famous paintings, including Marilyn and Campbell’s Soup tins in every palette and variation.
Gary Shenk, vice president for rights services at Corbis, says the company does not represent other individual artists. “A big problem in making fine art a commercial proposition is that most copyright holders place onerous restrictions on licensees altering a work for commercial use. Because Andy’s art was based on the modification of other images, the foundation will allow almost any modification,” he says. “It makes his art incredibly leverageable in the commercial market.” Rates vary depending on usage, but Warhol is considered “a premium collection,” commanding double the normal price for editorial use, and higher rates for commercial use as well. The Warhol Foundation will receive a percentage of the royalties and add the income to its grant programme.
Corbis already represents the archives of Christie’s, Reuters, Condé Nast, and the Ansel Adams Trust, among others, and has deals with the National Gallery in London, the Philadelphia Museum, the State Russian Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Barnes Foundation. The company’s revenue last year was around $140 million. Museum annual royalties range “from a few thousand dollars to a high of around $75,000,” but Warhol, a household name, is expected to set new levels. “This is big business,” says a Corbis spokesman.