How much is that doggy in the window? If it's a shiny sculpture by the artist Jeff Koons, then they start at $7,000 [£4,400]; if it's a plastic bookend produced by Toronto manufacturer Imm-Living and sold in a San Francisco art gallery you're looking at a mere $30 [£19]. And therein lies a snowballing legal dispute.
Lawyers representing Koons filed cease-and-desist letters against the two firms before Christmas, claiming that their cheap bookends, which come in the shape of the dogs traditionally made from balloons by children's entertainers, were illegal copies of the pop artist's famous sculptures.
News of the lawsuit sparked a mixture of outrage and mirth. Outrage because the intellectual property claim means that Koons is trying to claim copyright over every balloon dog; and mirth because it smacks of hypocrisy.
Koons is, after all, one of the art world's most famous creative magpies (he has been sued for copyright violation four times, losing three of the cases). Almost all of his most famous work reappropriates items that were originally designed by someone else, such as inflatable toys, porcelain ornaments and gaudy greetings cards.
The owners of the San Francisco gallery, Park Life, have duly hit back at the expensive legal team assembled by Koons, filing their own, somewhat surreal, lawsuit in federal court this week. It seeks a summary judgement stating that it is impossible for anyone to copyright the canine shape.
"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," says Park Life's counter-lawsuit. It notes that there are important differences between the bookends and the sculptures. For instance, theirs come only in matt colours; his are always shiny.