But this week, word spread that Alibaba, the online retailer, was offering stainless steel knockoffs starting at only $500 each. That's about one one-hundredth thousandth of the Koons' price. Buyers on Alibaba could get their inflatable pups in any color and size they wanted, from 10 centimeters to more than 90 feet. (The big ones can cost as much as $5,000, but that's still a bargain.)
But the link to VLA Sculpture, which comes courtesy of ArtFCity, has since come down and a search on Alibaba found other balloon dogs, but none by VLA.
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Did Koons intervene and does he own the balloon dog image? Yes ... and no.
Intellectual property attorneys said Koons has no legal claim on balloon dogs—even ones that look exactly like his—since balloon dogs are an everyday object and have been long before Koons came around.
As one San Francisco attorney famously wrote: "As virtually any clown can attest, no one owns the idea of making a balloon dog, and the shape created by twisting a balloon into a dog-like form is part of the public domain."
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That comment came in response to a cease-and-desist letter that Koons LLC and his attorneys sent to the Park Life gallery in 2011 after they started selling mini-balloon dogs as bookends. Koons eventually withdrew the complaint amid a barrage of negative publicity that criticized Koons for hypocrisy, given his own history with image appropriation.
Attorneys for Park argued that balloon dogs have been made by clowns and other balloon twisters for ages so Koons couldn't claim ownership—unlike, say, for an original painting.