The Aboriginal Flag can now be reproduced without permission or paying a fee after negotiations with Luritja artist Harold Thomas.
In the best news to come out of 2022, the Aboriginal Flag is now freely available for public use after the Morrison Government completed negotiations with Luritja artist and land rights activist Harold Thomas.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Aboriginal Flag copyright has been transferred to the Commonwealth in a $20.05 million deal.
“We’ve freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians,” the Prime Minister said.
“Throughout the negotiations, we have sought to protect the integrity of the Aboriginal Flag, in line with Harold Thomas’ wishes. I thank everyone involved for reaching this outcome, putting the flag in public hands.
“The Aboriginal Flag will now be managed in a similar manner to the Australian National Flag, where its use is free, but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way.
“All Australians can now put the Aboriginal Flag on apparel such as sports jerseys and shirts, it can be painted on sports grounds, included on websites, in paintings and other artworks, used digitally and in any other medium without having to ask for permission or pay a fee.”
Thomas designed the flag in 1971 and it was first flown at a land rights rally in Adelaide in July that same year. It has been an important symbol for Indigenous Australians for decades, and is regularly flown alongside Australia’s national flag in official and ceremonial capacities.
The flag will now follow the same protocols as the Australian National Flag, where its use is free but it must be treated with respect and dignity.
“I hope that this arrangement provides comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the Flag, unaltered, proudly and without restriction,” Thomas said.
“I am grateful that my art is appreciated by so many, and that it has come to represent something so powerful to so many.
“The Aboriginal Flag design is my dreaming, intertwined with my wife’s family and mine, our ancestral belonging. The land, and the landscape, is indelible in my make-up; it courses through my consciousness and unconsciousness.”
As part of the copyright transfer, Harold Thomas will retain his moral rights over the flag and the Commonwealth has also agreed that all future royalties the Commonwealth receives from Flagworld’s sale of the flag will be put towards the ongoing work of NAIDOC, the Australian Government will provide an annual scholarship in Mr Thomas’ honour worth $100,000 for Indigenous students to further the development of Indigenous governance and leadership, The National Indigenous Australians Agency will create an online history and education portal for the flag, and sn original painting by Harold Thomas recognising the flag’s 50th anniversary and the historic transfer of copyright will be gratefully accepted and displayed in a prominent location by the Australian Government.
The colours of the flag represent the earth (red), the sun (yellow) and the Aboriginal people of Australia (black). Up until this point in history, only three businesses owned by non-Aboriginal people had licensing agreements with Thomas to produce his design on flags, souvenirs and clothing.
Gunditjmara woman and Clothing the Gaps CEO Laura Thompson started a campaign to ‘Free the Flag’ in 2020 after discovering WAM Clothing held exclusive international rights to sell clothing with the Aboriginal Flag. WAM Clothing issued infringement notices to professional sporting codes and Aboriginal nonprofit groups for reproducing the flag without permission – including Clothing The Gaps, who always intended to give First Nations people a voice and an online space to occupy, while also educating non-Indigenous folks and inspiring conversation.
WAM gave them just three days to stop the sale of anything bearing the Aboriginal Flag, and kicked off Clothing The Gap’s Free the Flag campaign to call for new licensing agreements over the flag’s design, particularly for Aboriginal businesses and organisations.
“This is not a question of who owns the copyright of the Flag. This is a question of control,” the company states. “Should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, hold the monopoly in a market to profit off Aboriginal peoples’ identity and love for ‘their’ flag? We believe that this control of the market by a non-Indigenous business has to stop.”
The campaign drew support from the AFL, Olympian Nova Peris, Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and gained more than 165,000 signatures online.
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Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said securing the free use of the Aboriginal Flag was profoundly important for all Australians.
“The Aboriginal Flag is an enduring symbol close to the heart of Aboriginal people,” Minister Wyatt said.
“Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’ artwork our own – we marched under the Aboriginal Flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride.
“In reaching this agreement to resolve the copyright issues, all Australians can freely display and use the flag to celebrate Indigenous culture. Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away.”
To ensure the flags themselves are of the highest quality and continue to be manufactured in Australia, Carroll and Richardson Flagworld will remain the exclusive licensed manufacturer and provider of Aboriginal Flags and bunting. While this ongoing arrangement covers commercial production, Flagworld is not restricting individuals from making their own flag for personal use.
The Aboriginal Flag can now be put on apparel such as sports jerseys and shirts. It can also be painted on sports grounds, included on websites and in artwork without permission or having to pay a fee.
You can read the Prime Minister of Australia news release here.