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Can Jeff Koons Copyright a Balloon Animal?

The artist Jeff Koons has issued a cease-and-desist letter to Park Life, a store and gallery in San Francisco that sells "balloon dog bookends."

Having made a career appropriating aspects of pop culture—from Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles to the balloon animals that grace so many children's birthday parties—and turning them into critically lauded sculptures and photographs, the artist Jeff Koons has issued a cease and desist letter to Park Life, a store and gallery in San Francisco that sells "balloon dog bookends."

Design Boom explains:


the balloon dog bookend is unquestionably like koons' 'balloon dog' ; on the other hand, they both look like any children's birthday party balloon animal and if you would try to build one it would probably look very similar too. parklife published a comment 'jeff koons owns all likenesses of balloon dogs'.

the balloon dog bookends were bought by park life from a toronto distributor imm living. the company's goods are sold in more than 700 stores in the US.

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It's obviously tricky to talk about what's "authentic" and "original" when appropriation is the modus operandi. But it's worth asking:

Is the bookend referencing a concept—the common balloon animal—that belongs to the public domain? Or is it just a copy of Koons's work?


Park Life doesn't seem to be selling the bookend (pictured in orange with eyes blocked out) any longer, which means Koons apparently has legal grounds to stand on—or maybe Park Life just doesn't have the money to call his bluff.
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