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George Orwell’s estate has copyrighted the number 1984

Not letting you use the numbers 1984 is quite a 1984 thing to do, no?

George Orwell is the deceased novelist responsible for seminal works of fictional social commentary such as Animal Farm and most famously 1984, the prophetic tale of a dystopian surveillance state strangling the free will out of its citizens. Of course, many of Orwell’s "predictions" in that book turned out to be kind of true, hence the ubiquity of the slightly cloying adjective "Orwellian", used by many people to complain that they are absolutely not au fait with governments’ increasingly draconian stranglehold over our mobility and limiting of our privacy, while also letting whoever is on the receiving end know that yes, I’ve read a few books in my time.

Orwell might be dead, but his estate is alive and kicking, with an eyebrow-raising penchant for copyright clampdowns. How Orwellian, you might say, if you’d read a few books in your time. The man who has brought this to attention is Internet radio host Josh Hadley, who used his own site to sell homemade t-shirts, one of which contains the fairly innocuous phrase "1984 is already here", an obvious reference to the widely-held idea that everything we do is watched by incredibly nosy, more powerful members of society.

What Hadley didn’t realise is that Big Brother is watching him and his harmless t-shirts. The George Orwell estate – acting like 1984 is already here – wants him stopped and the t-shirts taken offline, on the basis that they violate copyright and use "George Orwell quotes". Hadley didn’t even ever sell one of his t-shirts.

Speaking to TorrentFreak, who picked up the story, Hadley said: "First off is the irony of the estate of George Orwell being all Orwellian but second is that you can’t copyright a number. “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.”

Hadley also said, "This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and more off it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control." One would imagine that somebody working on behalf of the George Orwell estate would have the awareness to understand the irony of vigorously policing the takedown of these amateur, fan-made t-shirts paying homage to 1984. It feels contradictory if you ask me, a little Doublethink.