George Orwell's estate sent copyright notice to man selling T-Shirts with "1984 is already here" on them

'This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control'

Poster for Nick Lane's adaption of George Orwell's 1984
Poster for Nick Lane's adaption of George Orwell's 1984

George Orwell’s seminal 1984 foretold of a dystopian world in which government’s prevented free speech and mass surveillance is the norm.

While the writer may have died in 1950, his estate is still going and - slightly ironically - handing out copyright notices to people attempting to use Orwell quotes on T-shirts.

According to Torrent Freak, one man attempting to sell T-shirts with the phrase “1984 is already here” had been contacted by the estate for infringing on their copyright.

George Orwell

Josh Hadley had been selling his wears through the website CafePress before starting up his own store. Although he hadn’t sold anything, a statement from CafePress was sent to Halliday which read:

We have a long-standing policy of contacting our users whenever we receive notices indicating that their content may infringe the intellectual property rights of others. It is for this reason that you are receiving this communication today. In accordance with our Intellectual Property Rights Policy, we have received a notice alleging that your use of certain content violates the intellectual property rights of a third-party as follows:

Rights Holder Name: Orwell Estate

Rights Holder Contact Information: **********

Content At Issue: George Orwell, George Orwell Quotes

Alleged Violation of Rights Holder’s Rights In: Copyright/ Right of Publicity

According to the notice, Halliday has used Orwell quotes, yet he alleges that no such quotes were used, just the number 1984.

“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 told 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.”

On CafePress the T-Shirts no longer appear, the images apparently pending, as seen below.

Screengrab of 'copyrighted' 1984 T-shirts

Literary executor of the estate, Bill Hamilton, said: “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.”

While Hadley has no intention of putting the T-shirts back on CafePress, he says he will reissue them in his own store.​

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