Jeff Koons, the artist you may know for his reproductions of “banal objects” (like balloon animals), is now suing two companies who have allegedly reproduced his reproductions of said everyday objects. Which brings up a somewhat existential question: If you reproduce something that’s already common to the masses, and the clowns, in a bigger, shinier format, and then sell it for a lot of money, do you “own” it?
The New York Times reports that Koons is suing two businesses — Park Life in San Francisco and Imm-Living in Toronto — that his lawyers claim violated his intellectual property rights by making and selling bookends similar to his “Balloon Dog” sculpture, which comes in a 10-foot-tall version that’s been shown at the Met and Versailles, and a more travel-ready 10 ½-inch version, more like the bookends.
The businesses say that the accusation has no merit and that they will “vigorously defend” their position. Also, balloon dogs? They’re everywhere! And Koons hardly created them. Even though his are the biggest.
So what are his chances?
Experts said that given the objects’ differences and that Mr. Koons’s sculpture was based on an object in the public domain, he might have difficulty proving that the bookends violated a copyright. Robert W. Clarida, an intellectual-property lawyer, said that in such a case a judge would probably instruct a jury to filter out the characteristics of balloon dogs in general and focus on what was distinctive about Mr. Koons’s version; if Imm-Living didn’t specifically copy that, it wouldn’t have violated Mr. Koons’s rights.
Koons, by the way, has been sued for violating the copyrights of others four times. He lost in three of the cases. It’s clearly a balloon-dog-eat-balloon-dog world out there. Ahem.