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George Orwell’s estate threatens radio host for using the number 1984

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Billboard advertising Robert Icek and Ducan MacMillan's theatrical adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four on May 30, 2015 in London (Shutterstock)

“Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.” So goes the slogan of Ingsoc, or the English Socialist Party, the totalitarian rulers in George Orwell’s paradigm-setting dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The descendants of Orwell, whose name has become synonymous with mechanisms used to enforce power, are trying to force an Internet radio host to stop using the iconic “1984” on merchandise, claiming copyright infringement, leaving one to wonder whether they ever read Orwell’s work.

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Josh Hadley, who runs 1201 Beyond, said he received a “cease and desist” letter from the Orwell estate because he was selling T-shirts with “1984” on them, TorrentFreak reports.

“First off is the irony of the estate of George Orwell being all Orwellian but second is that you can’t copyright a number,” Hadley told TF. “The U.S. Copyright office has long since established this.” Hadley added he didn’t use any of the author’s quotes on the T-shirt even though the estate had accused him of doing so.

But Bill Hamilton, executor of the estate, said the merchandise Hadley was selling does breach copyright laws.

“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 told TF.

Hadley said he still plans to sell the shirt with “1984” on it because it’s something he believes George Orwell himself would approve of, noting the “Big Brother-like” manner the estate watched his website for transgressions.

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“This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and more off it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control,” Hadley told TF. “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.”


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