The campaign of American presidential hopeful Barack Obama got a shot in the arm recently when a YouTube video appeared that used footage of Apple’s legendary “1984” television ad. Now the copyright owners of George Orwell’s 1984 are speaking out about the ad.
Apple’s ad, directed by famed motion picture director Ridley Scott, is legendary in the annals of television advertising. Aired during the SuperBowl in 1984, the ad set in motion Apple’s campaign for the then-new Macintosh computer. It featured a dystopian future world, where legions of drone workers sit slack-jawed watching a large video screen as a young woman dressed in bright colors and a Macintosh t-shirt runs up a center corridor, throwing a hammer into the screen.
The political ad for Obama’s campaign used the same footage, replacing the video image of a bespectacled bureaucrat with that of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s ostensible principal rival for the Democratic party nomination in 2008. The ad, which has been uploaded to the popular video site YouTube and has made the rounds on political television shows and elsewhere since, ends with a play on the original Apple ad: “On Jan. 14, the Democratic primary will begin. And you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like ‘1984.’”
The ad was ultimately revealed to be the work of Phil De Vellis, working under the nom de YouTube of “ParkRidge47.” De Vellis, a self-proclaimed “proud Democrat,” said in a posting to Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post blog that he is not affiliated with the Obama campaign (outside of being an independent supporter), but made the ad mashup “to show that an individual citizen can affect the [political] process.”
That explanation only goes so far, according to Gina Rosenblum of Rosenblum Productions, owners of the television and movie rights to Orwell’s novel.
“The political ad copies a prior commercial infringement of our copyright,” said Rosenblum.
“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,” added Rosenblum.
Rosenblum said that over the years her company has authorized related products, including the Richard Burton movie, videos and soundtracks, but that licensing hasn’t extended to Apple’s use.
“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. The commercial never aired on television again,” said Rosenblum.
Earlier calls to Apple officials asking whether the company considered the video a violation of their copyright were not returned.