In a new lawsuit filed in Los Angeles against Heritage Auctions, the Emmy officials claim the statuette is a loan to recipients and not a gift, adding rules state the trophy should be given back to the Academy upon a winner's death.

Whitney died in 2012 and her heirs are now hoping to cash in on the prize as part of an estate sale of Whitney's costumes and keepsakes.

The Emmy the late singer picked up in 1986 for her performance of Saving All My Love for You at the Grammys is listed at $10,000 (GBP676,000) on Heritage Auctions' website. It is set to be sold on Friday (24Jun16).

The Academy's complaint, filed on Wednesday (22Jun16), reads: "When the Television Academy honors an artist for an achievement, it lends a copy of the Emmy Statuette to the artist to signify and symbolize the honor," adding the recipient's heirs are permitted to "retain custody of copies to symbolize the achievements of the deceased honoree", but not to sell the statuette to the highest bidder.

"The Television Academy has never intended that the Emmy Statuette copies be treated as articles of trade. The original statuette is registered under the copyright laws as an 'unpublished' work of art: copies of the statuette are not, and never have been, offered for sale or given to the general public."

The Academy officials claim a notice would have been affixed to the bottom of the award that makes it clear an honoree or heir can't sell it.

Academy bosses are suing for copyright infringement and conversion and asking the court to order the auction house owners to return it to them.