George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic book that describes a rather dystopian future with surveillance and control as central themes.
The author himself passed away in 1950 and currently his rights are controlled and protected by the Orwell estate.
Ironically, the estate itself has gained a reputation for exerting tight control of copyrights and trademarks, surveilling the Internet for possible offenses.
This is something Internet radio host Josh Hadley has now experienced first hand. Hadley runs 1201 Beyond where he gathers and distributes his shows and writings, among other things.
Before he had his own site and store Hadley used CafePress to sell T-shirts. Although he never sold any, the old store didn’t go unnoticed by the Orwell estate.
Last week he received a worrying email from CafePress informing him that one of his designs had been taken offline due to an alleged copyright violation. The design in question, as seen below, mentions the number sequence “1984.”
According to the complaint the T-shirt design uses “George Orwell quotes,” but the only reference to the author are the numbers that make up the book’s title.
This appears to be a rather broad request, not least since copyright law does not protect book titles.
Hadley is offended by the request which he believes to be illegitimate and something George Orwell himself would not support.
“First off is the irony of the estate of George Orwell being all Orwellian but second is that you can’t copyright a number,” he tells TF.
“The US Copyright office has long since established this and second they are claiming I am using ‘quotes’ from the book. Look at the image in question and tell me what ‘quotes’ I used.”
CafePress has pulled the designs offline and they are now listed as “pending” in Hadley’s dashboard. In theory, he could appeal the takedown but he has no plans to do so.
The Orwell estate maintains that the use of the image violates their rights, according to its literary executor Bill Hamilton who we showed the contested design.
“The estate has never licensed merchandising, nor have the licensees of the relevant film rights, under which merchandising usually comes. Some of the merchandising I asked to be taken down was in clear breach of copyright,” Hamilton tells TF.
Appreciating the irony of the whole situation, Hadley says he will reissue the T-shirt in his new store and won’t take any further abuse from the Orwell heirs.
“This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and more off it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control.”
“I am in the process of having this image retouched and added to the store on my current site as I will not allow this kind of abuse of authority to stand.”
Hadley is warned though, Big Brother is watching…