George Orwell’s Estate Goes Orwellian, Sends Takedown Notice Over a Number

68811124_784a37b587_oHere’s a tale which is both sad and ironic.

TorrentFreak reports that the estate of the author George Orwell has taken his most famous work as a how to manual, and not a cautionary tale:

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.

If the designs that Hadley shared with TorrentFreak are the ones that were pulled from CafePress, the copyright complaint is bogus. The designs look like original work to me, and the only detail that the designs share with the book is the number, 1984.

As everyone knows, you can’t copyright a number, even if it is the title of a book. But that is exactly what the estate’s literary executor is claiming, according to TorrentFreak. “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,” its literary executor Bill Hamilton told TorrentFreak.

Now, if Hamilton wanted to claim trademark infringement, that would be a different case. It is possible to trademark a number, although I don’t think you could trademark a year (it’s too generic and widely used).

But even that does not matter in this case. I checked the US Patent and Trademark office and the Orwell estate doesn’t have a registered trademark on the number 1984. I found around 60 trademarks that incorporate 1984, and none appear to refer to the book or belong to the estate.

In short, this case is copyright trolling, pure and simple.

image by jason ilagan

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Tim Wilhoit27 October, 2015
  2. David Haywood Young27 October, 2015

    Pure and simple, sure…but also very funny. Thanks!

  3. Greg Strandberg27 October, 2015

    I’d recommend the estate find an overseer that won’t waste it’s money.

  4. Orwell estate issues copyright takedown of 1984 T-shirts; irony ensues | TeleRead28 October, 2015

    […] the takedown—you can’t copyright a book title. However, you can trademark a book title—but as Nate Hoffelder notes at The Digital Reader, the Orwell estate doesn’t even have a registered trademark on 1984 either. (At least not in the […]

  5. Richard Herley28 October, 2015

    “1984” is not the title of the book. As examination of any authorized copy will show, it is “Nineteen Eighty-four”.

    What next? Will they pursue people calling their son “George”, even though the author’s name was “Eric”?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top