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25 Jan, 2022 14:29

Government buys flag’s copyright to make it free to fly

Canberra paid over $14 million under a deal with the creator of the Aboriginal flag
Government buys flag’s copyright to make it free to fly

The Australian Aboriginal flag can now be used by anyone for free, after the government in Canberra reached a copyright agreement with its original creator, ending a long and costly battle over its design.

The Aboriginal flag was designed by artist and activist Harold Thomas, a descendant of the Luritja people of Central Australia, and was adopted as an official flag in 1995.

The deal is the culmination of a ‘Free the Flag’ campaign to untangle the complicated network of copyright licensing agreements and put it into the public domain. The government will pay 20 million Australian dollars (over $14m) of taxpayers’ money to achieve this goal, local media reported.

The settlement includes payments to Thomas, who is now in his 70s, and extinguishes all existing licenses. While the Commonwealth will own the copyright, the artist will keep the moral rights to his work. 

“In reaching this agreement to resolve the copyright issues, all Australians can freely display and use the flag to celebrate Indigenous culture,” Ken Wyatt, the country’s federal minister for Indigenous Australians, said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deal will “protect the integrity of the Aboriginal Flag, in line with Harold Thomas’ wishes.” The image will be treated the same way as the national flag, in the sense that anyone can use it but must do so in a respectful manner.

Thomas expressed hope that the deal would “provide comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the flag, unaltered, proudly, and without restriction.”

The flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people’s time on it. It is an introspection and appreciation of who we are.

The campaign to “free” the Aboriginal flag was launched after the public discovered that in 2018 the firm WAM Clothing had obtained exclusive rights to use the image in designs of clothes sold internationally. The grassroots movement gained traction in 2020, spearheaded by campaigner Laura Thompson, who came up with its core slogan. Supporters celebrated their win by changing their hashtag to #FreedTheFlag.

The banner shows two horizontal stripes of black and red, symbolizing respectively the Aboriginal people of Australia and the land inherently connected to the native inhabitants. In the middle of it, a yellow circle stands for the sun.