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1984 copyright owner rattles legal saber over Hillary YouTube mashup

War is peace, freedom is slavery, copyrighted work is beyond parody

March 28, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The copyright holder of George Orwell's classic novel 1984 may sue over the video that used Apple Inc.'s 23-year-old Macintosh advertisement to jab at Sen. Hillary Clinton, a lawyer for Rosenblum Productions Inc. said today.

"We're not filing [a lawsuit] at this point; we're monitoring the situation," said William Coulson, who represents Rosenblum Productions. "But we certainly reserve the right to do so in the future." Coulson did not specify whom Rosenblum might sue -- the video's creator, YouTube Inc. or both.

The 74-second video, a mashup that substitutes the droning Big Brother of the original Apple television ad with images and words from the New York Democrat, has been extremely popular on YouTube's video sharing network. As of today, the video had been viewed more than 3.8 million times.

Clinton is a rival of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Last week, the video's creator stepped forward. Phil de Vellis, who was fired from his position at Blue State Digital LLC, a Washington-based technology firm that specializes in political campaign support, said he made the video on his Mac in a single weekend afternoon.

Yesterday, Gina Rosenblum, president of Rosenblum Productions, rattled a legal saber. "The political ad copies a prior commercial infringement of our copyright," said Rosenblum in a statement. "We recognize the legal issues inherent under the First Amendment and the copyright law as to political expression of opinion, but we want the world at large to know that we take our copyright ownership of one of the world's great novels very seriously."

Rosenblum acquired the copyright to 1984 from the Orwell estate and Sonia Orwell, the widow of George Orwell, in 1981. The novel remains in copyright until at least 2044.

Her firm has defended the 1984 franchise at least twice before. After Apple aired its Mac introductory ad during Super Bowl XVII, Rosenblum sent a "cease and desist" letter to the computer maker, she said in yesterday's statement. "When the Apple 'Big Brother' television commercial was aired during the 1984 Super Bowl telecast, we immediately objected to this unauthorized commercial use of the novel, and sent a 'cease-and-desist' letter both to Apple and to its ad agency," Rosenblum said. "The commercial never aired on television again."

In 2001, Rosenblum settled out of court with CBS Television and Viacom Inc. over copyright and trademark infringement charges against the reality program Big Brother. The financial details of the settlement were not disclosed, said Coulson, who also represented Rosenblum in that case. "But it was mutually satisfactory to both parties," he said.

Apple has ignored requests for comment on its position over the de Vellis video.

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