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Corbis, the digital image agency owned by Microsoft chief Bill Gates, has struck an exclusive deal with the Andy Warhol Foundation to distribute work created by the iconic artist.

Corbis, the digital image agency owned by Microsoft chief Bill Gates, has struck an exclusive deal with the Andy Warhol Foundation to distribute work created by the iconic artist.

The agreement, which will be officially announced in the next few days, will mean that companies wanting to use artwork created by Warhol will be able to download it from Corbis's website and then gain rights clearance from the image agency.

Initially, 500 of Warhol's most famous works will be available - ranging from the iconic Campbell's Soup cans to his early work when he was a commercial artist employed by advertising agencies in New York.

However, Corbis will be able to obtain the rights to any Warhol image owned by the Foundation if customers want something not among the initial 500 works.

The works of Warhol - considered one of the most impor- tant artists of the 20th century, and the leader of the Pop art movement - are among the most reproduced in the world.

They have been used for advertising and marketing by groups as diverse as Mont Blanc pens, The Gap, Volkswagen and the Swiss Post. A Warhol T-shirt made by Uniqlo, a Japanese group, has sold nearly a million since it was launched less than a month ago.

Annual sales of Warhol-related products are estimated to be worth $30m (£16m) a year for the Foundation, the charitable trust set up under the artist's will to administer his estate after his death in 1987.

The Andy Warhol Foundation has been in talks with a number of agencies, including Corbis's arch rival, Getty Images, about setting up a deal.

Martin Cribbs, the licensing director of the Foundation, said that it had chosen Corbis because it was the best in the world at what it did. "We want this deal to open the door on a wide range of Warhol imagery," he said. "A lot of Andy's work has been little used and we can work with people to use imagery specifically tailored for them."

"Warhol is uniquely powerful in both commercial and artistic uses, bringing instant recognition and attributes like originality, irony and leading-edge hip to major brands and messages worldwide," said Gary Shenk, the head of rights services at Corbis. "We look forward to sharing the genius, ingenuity and vision of Warhol and his work with creative professionals around the globe."

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