From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BEN Group, Inc.
FormerlyBEN Group
TypePrivately held company
Rights clearance
Founded1989; 34 years ago (1989) (as Interactive Home Systems)
Key people
Ricky Ray Butler, CEO
OwnerBill Gates[1]

BENlabs, formerly BEN Group Inc, is a Los Angeles-based product placement, influencer marketing and licensing company.[2][3] The company offers AI-driven product placement, influencer marketing services, music partnerships, rights clearance, and personality rights management services for the entertainment industry.

The company was founded in Seattle by Bill Gates in 1989 as Interactive Home Systems, and later renamed Corbis. The company's original goal was to license and digitize artwork and other historic images for the prospective concept of digital frames. In 1997, Corbis changed its business model to focus on licensing the imagery and footage in its collection.

The Corbis collection included contemporary creative, editorial, entertainment, and historical photography as well as art and illustrations. Among its acquisitions were the 11 million piece Bettmann Archive, acquired in 1995; the Sygma collection in France (1999); and the German stock image company ZEFA (2005). Corbis also had the rights to digital reproduction for art from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery in London.[4]

Corbis later expanded into providing services for the entertainment industry, including brand integration and rights clearance services. In January 2016, Corbis announced that it had sold its image licensing businesses to Unity Glory International, an affiliate of Visual China Group. VCG licensed the images to Corbis's historic rival, Getty Images, outside China. Corbis retained its entertainment businesses under the name Branded Entertainment Network, which has since evolved to BENlabs.

Lines of business

BEN Group's Inc's businesses include product placement services, the celebrity photo agency Splash News,[5] as well as Greenlight, a business that provides clearances for images, music, video, and licenses personality rights for commercial use.[6] BEN directly represents the personality rights of various figures, including Albert Einstein, Buzz Aldrin, Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, Maria Callas, Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King Jr., Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen, and Thomas Edison among others.[7][8][9] In 2015, BEN Group Inc acquired Plaid Social Labs, a leader in digital influencer marketing and integrations. In 2016, BEN Group Inc sold Splash.[10]



Bill Gates founded the company in 1989 under the name Interactive Home Systems; he envisioned a system for allowing customers to decorate their homes with revolving displays of artwork, including works by notable painters, using digital frames and technology that had yet to have been developed.[4] The company's name was changed to Continuum Productions in 1992 and later, to Corbis Corporation.[11] Interactive television was suggested as a way to deliver the content, but as the development of the planned product was under way, Corbis focused on digitizing content and acquiring rights to images. Corbis signed agreements with the National Gallery of London, the Library of Congress, the Sakamoto Archive, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.[11]

In October 1995, the company purchased the Bettmann Archive collection, which included the pre-1983 photo library of United Press International and its predecessor photo agencies, Acme and INP, the photo arm of the International News Service. Prior to acquiring the Bettmann Archive, Corbis represented roughly 500,000 images, a total that increased substantially when the Bettmann drawings, artworks, news photographs, and other illustrations were added to the company's portfolio. In all the Bettmann Archive contained 19 million images.[12] The archive was stored 220 feet underground in a refrigerated cave in the Iron Mountain storage facility,[13]

In 1995, the company won a contract with its first major photographer, Roger Ressmeyer, followed by several more, including Galen Rowell; this signalled growing interest in the world of professional photography, which up to that point had not taken the company seriously.[11] In 1996 the company acquired the exclusive rights to approximately 40,000 images photographed by wilderness photographer Ansel Adams.[14]

In 1997, Corbis named company veterans, Steve Davis and Tony Rojas, co-CEOs. Corbis also hired David Rheins to run Corbis' Productions, and Leslie Hughes to lead the company's B2B image licensing division, Corbis Images.[15] These hires marked the company's shift to a more market focused entity. Corbis Productions published several award-winning CD-ROM titles such as A Passion for Art: Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Dr. Barnes, compiled from the Barnes Foundation collection, and Leonardo da Vinci, which showcased the Codex Leicester.[16]

In 1998, Leslie Hughes was named President of Corbis Images. The company expanded internationally and through product development and further acquisitions. The company acquired Digital Stock Corp., a supplier of royalty-free images to further expand its offering.[17] In 1998, another division was added to Corbis Images when the company acquired Outline Press Syndicate, Inc., a supplier of celebrity portrait photography. Renamed Corbis Outline, the company syndicated studio portraits and candid photographs of actors, musicians, athletes, politicians, business leaders, scientists, and other celebrities and provided the images for sale to a broad range of national magazines.[18] The same year, Corbis also acquired Westlight, adding over 3 million images to their archives while scanning best selling images.[19]

In June 1999, the company acquired the French news photo agency Sygma, adding 40 million additional images to the company's collection, and expanding Corbis's portfolio beyond 65 million images. The archive is today stored in a preservation and access facility outside Paris.[20]

In 2000, Microsoft (a fellow venture of Gates) purchased the rights through Corbis to the image Bucolic Green Hills, which it renamed to Bliss for the default wallpaper of Windows XP. The image was taken in the Los Carneros American Viticultural Area of Sonoma County, California, United States by photographer Charles O'Rear in 1996, who previously sent it to Westlight which Corbis had acquired in 1998.[21]


Corbis's business-to-business image licensing business expanded with the growth of the internet in the early part of the decade. The company also expanded geographically, making multiple acquisitions such as the Stock Market[22] and expanding into the footage licensing market with the acquisition of Sekani.

  • In 2000, after the company's dramatic growth in the professional licensing business, Corbis named Leslie Hughes President of the newly consolidated Markets and Products Group (CMPG). The new group represented the consolidation of formerly separate business units, professional licensing and business communicator (small office).[23]
  • In 2001 Corbis built a state-of-the-art preservation facility in western Pennsylvania to house the Bettmann Archive. Corbis committed to preserving the collection for generations to come, and to allow continued access to this extraordinary collection.[24]
  • In late 2002, Leslie Hughes stepped down as President of Corbis' Markets and Products Group. Steve Davis was named as sole CEO, and Tony Rojas was appointed the company's president.
  • In 2005, the company expanded further into Europe with the acquisition of zefa,[25] and into Australia in 2006, with the acquisition of Australian Picture Library.[26]
  • In April 2007, the company announced it was naming new leadership. Steve Davis stepped down as CEO, and Gary Shenk was named as the new CEO as of July 1.[4][27] Shenk oversaw aggressive cost-cutting efforts to improve the company's financial performance and address the rise of low-cost competitors. The company experienced several waves of layoffs for the next several years, shed non-profitable lines of business and reduced its number of offices globally.
  • In November 2007, Corbis announced that it would be purchasing Veer and would continue to operate it as a separate brand.[28]
  • In early June 2007, Corbis announced that it was creating a microstock website, SnapVillage. The company said it intended to use its microstock site as a farm club to find photographers who could also sell their photographs on the main Corbis Web site. In late June, the company launched SnapVillage, with about 10,000 images initially viewable. SnapVillage was closed due to low sales in early 2009 and rolled into Veer.
  • Corbis rebranded its Rights Services Division, previously a Division of Corbis Images, as "GreenLight" in 2008.[29]
  • In July 2008 Corbis sold eMotion LLC, its media management division, to Open Text Corporation.
  • In May 2009, Corbis opened the Sygma Preservation and Access Facility outside Paris, France, housing tens of millions of photographic elements from the past half century in Europe.[30] The company in 2009 also re-launched its Corbis Motion website with hundreds of thousands of new video clips, after signing a new partnership with Thought Equity Motion.[31]
  • In 2010, Corbis increased its focus on serving web and mobile customers, with the introduction of low-resolution file sizes images that were more affordable for Web and Mobile use.[31] Corbis also relaunched its website with a greater focus on affordable images and fonts to compete more effectively against low cost competitors.[32]
  • In 2010, Corbis was found to have committed fraud against Infoflows Corporation.[1][33]
  • In this decade, Corbis has discussed its financial direction in moving towards profitability multiple times without success.[34][35][36]


  • In January 2011, Shirley Jones sued Corbis alleging the company violated her publicity rights, and seeking class-action status for other celebrities.[37] The case was thrown out in June 2011, with the court forcing Jones to pay Corbis's legal fees and other costs.[38]
  • July 2011—Five Photographers take Corbis to court for misuse of corporate assets in closing Corbis Sygma.[39]
  • July 2011—Corbis acquires Splash News, a Los Angeles-based firm that deals in celebrity photography.[5]
  • August 2011—Corbis and the Associated Press announce a distribution deal to try to reach each other's customers for current and archival photographs. Corbis' collection includes the library of onetime AP-rival UPI, acquired in the purchase of Bettmann.[40]
  • January 2012—Corbis acquires the product placement agency Norm Marshall Group.[41]
  • May 2012—Washington State Appellate Court upholds jury verdict that Corbis committed fraud.[42][43]
  • Nov 2012—Corbis expands global media footprint and acquires breaking news photojournalism newswire, Demotix, following successful investment and global distribution partnership.[44]

2016–present: Sale of image licensing business

On January 22, 2016, Corbis announced that it had sold its general image licensing business, including the Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer libraries and their associated assets, to Unity Glory, an affiliate of Visual China Group. The sale did not include the Corbis Entertainment business, which would remain owned by the company under a new name. Concurrently, it was announced that VCG would exclusively license distribution of the Corbis images library outside China to its rival, Getty Images. VCG has historically served as the exclusive distributor of Getty content in China.[7] Distribution of Corbis content was transitioned to Getty's outlets, and the company manages Corbis's physical archives on behalf of VCG. Of the deal, Getty CEO Jonathan Klein remarked that after 21 years in business, it was "lovely to get the milk, the cream, cheese, yogurt and the meat without buying the cow."[8][45]

In May 2016, following the handover of the Corbis images business to Unity Glory and Getty, Corbis Entertainment was renamed Branded Entertainment Network, and re-located its operations to Los Angeles. CEO Gary Shenk stated that the company had organized over 5,000 brand placements in 2015, with clients including Cadillac, Jose Cuervo, Microsoft, and others.[46] In 2018, Ricky Ray Butler, was named CEO.[47] In 2020 BEN won the Agency of the Year award at the 10th Streamy Awards.[48]

In February 2023, BEN Group was rebranded as BENlabs.[49]

See also


  1. ^ a b Lohr, Steve (July 18, 2010). "In a Partnership of Unequals, a Start-Up Suffers". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  2. ^ "BEN Group Inc | AI Entertainment Marketing". BEN. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  3. ^ "Give Your Creative Vision the Greenlight". GreenLight Rights. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Hafner, Katie (April 10, 2007). "A Photo Trove, a Mounting Challenge". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 10, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Corbis buys L.A. firm that specializes in celebrity photos". Seattle Times. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  6. ^ "Corbis Simplifies Music Licensing With GreenLight Launch". Billboard. Archived from the original on November 10, 2015. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Bill Gates' Corbis Images Sold to Visual China Group". Variety. January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Corbis sale to Chinese company may be boon to Getty". Seattle Times. January 22, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  9. ^ "GreenLight Adds Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash To Rights Roster". Billboard. Archived from the original on May 11, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  10. ^ "The Branded Entertainment Network (BEN) Announces Sale of Splash News to SilverHub Media UK Ltd". December 2, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Rapaport, Richard (November 1996). "In His Image". Wired UK. Archived from the original on June 29, 2004. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  12. ^ Jesse Birnbaum; David Bjerklie; Patrick E. Cole (October 23, 1995). "HISTORY: GATES SNAPS TOP PIX". Time. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  13. ^ Haynes, Gary. "UNDER IRON MOUNTAIN Corbis Stores "Very Important Photographs" At Zero Degrees Fahrenheit" (PDF). National Press Photographer's Association. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  14. ^ Lohr, Steve (April 2, 1996). "Gates Acquires Rights To Adams Photo Images". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  15. ^ "Industry leaders join Corbis to meet growing demand for visual content". BNET. 1997. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  16. ^ Teather, David (February 8, 2005). "The software billionaire's $170m sideline". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  17. ^ "Gates' Corbis Archive Acquires Digital Stock". The Seattle Times. February 3, 1998.
  18. ^ "Outline Press Joins Corbis; Premier Celebrity Image Provider Joins Forces With Market Leader Corbis to Create World's Most Extensive Celebrity Portrait Business". Business Wire. July 14, 1998. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  19. ^ Pickerell, Jim (May 20, 1998). "Corbis Acquires Westlight". Selling Stock. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  20. ^ Balean, John (May 15, 2009). "PAN Special Report: The Sygma Preservation and Access Facility". Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  21. ^ "The story of the Windows XP 'Bliss' desktop theme—and what it looks like today". PCWorld. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  22. ^ "Corbis Acquires The Stock Market Photo Agency". March 22, 2000. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  23. ^ "Hughes to Lead Newly Consolidated Markets and Products Group".
  24. ^ "Corbis Opens New Film Preservation Center that Rescues and Preserves Access to America's Most Famous Images" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Corbis Acquires Zefa, Third-Largest Image Licensing Company in the World". January 4, 2005. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  26. ^ Ferrone, Chris (October 3, 2006). "Corbis acquires Australian Picture Library". Archived from the original on January 4, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  27. ^ "Corbis Announces New Leadership Team". Archived from the original on December 2, 2005.
  28. ^ "Corbis Acquires Veer". Archived from the original on September 29, 2011.
  29. ^ "Corbis Rebrands as "GreenLight" and signs Steve McQueen licensing deals". License! Global. June 24, 2008. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  30. ^ "Corbis Opens Sygma Preservation And Access Facility". DesignTAXI. May 18, 2009. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  31. ^ a b Phelps, Brent (January 21, 2009). "Corbis partners with Thought Equity Motion". Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  32. ^ "Veer's New Website Equals Simpler Shopping, More Affordable Images & Fonts". July 14, 2010. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  33. ^ Buley, Taylor (July 19, 2010). "Start-Up Goes Public on Corbis Fraud, Starring Bill Gates". Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  34. ^ Ferrone, Chris (March 20, 2006). "Corbis reports on 2005 Financial Performance". About the Image. Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  35. ^ Ando, Ritsuko; Gershberg, Michele (November 27, 2007). "Corbis on Verge of Profitablity". Reuters. Archived from the original on October 19, 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  36. ^ "Corbis and Costco". Debra Weiss creative consultant. December 9, 2010. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  37. ^ Walker, David (January 11, 2022). "Actress Sues Corbis to Shut Down Online Marketing of Celebrity Images". Photo District News. Archived from the original on January 15, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  38. ^ Walker, David. "Celebrity Smackdown: Walking the Red Carpet Is Consent, Judge Says". PDN. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  39. ^ Puech, Michel. "5 photographers take Corbis to court!". La Lettre. Archived from the original on March 26, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  40. ^ "The AP And Corbis Combine Image Libraries in Distribution Deal – paidContent". August 23, 2011. Archived from the original on September 25, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  41. ^ Elliot, Stuart (January 8, 2012). "Corbis to Acquire NMA Group". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 8, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  42. ^ Cook, John (May 16, 2012). "Bill Gates-owned Corbis faces $12.75M in damages in fraud case". GeekWire. Archived from the original on May 20, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  43. ^ Apostolou, Natalie (May 16, 2012). "Gates' Corbis busted again for fraud". The Register. Archived from the original on August 17, 2022. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  44. ^ "Corbis Acquires Demotix". Market Wired. November 14, 2012. Archived from the original on September 12, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  45. ^ "The Decade-Long Image Licensing War Is Suddenly Over". Time. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  46. ^ "Corbis Rebrands To BEN, Moves To L.A. To Focus on Product Placement". MediaPost Publications. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  47. ^ "Ricky Ray Butler Named CEO Of Bill Gates-Owned Product Placement Agency BEN". March 19, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  48. ^ Billboard Staff (December 13, 2020). "2020 YouTube Streamy Awards Winners: Complete List". Billboard. Retrieved December 12, 2021.
  49. ^ "BEN Group is now BENlabs, reflecting its innovative use of AI to connect brands and creators with key audiences through engaged human attention" (Press release). PR Newswire. February 14, 2023. Retrieved April 21, 2023.

Further reading

47°36′12″N 122°20′00″W / 47.603365°N 122.333354°W / 47.603365; -122.333354