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The Aboriginal Flag Is Now Free for Public Use Thanks to the Australian Government's New Copyright Deal

The Aboriginal flag can now be used both digitally and physically without having to ask permission or pay a fee.
By Sarah Ward
January 25, 2022
By Sarah Ward
January 25, 2022

For more than half a century, the Australian Aboriginal flag has flown high with pride as a symbol of the nation's First Peoples — and you can now expect to start seeing it in more places. The Federal Government has just announced that the black, red and yellow design, which was created in 1970 by Luritja artist Harold Thomas, is now freely available for public use following a hugely significant copyright deal.

Before the new arrangement, copyright for the flag resided with Thomas — and, when displayed on clothing, to an apparel company thanks to an exclusive license. The latter deal helped spark the Free the Flag movement, after reported infringement notices were issued over the design's use by other organisations including Clothing The Gap and various sporting codes. Over the past few years, you've probably seen Free The Flag shirts, posters and billboards raising awareness about the flag's copyright restrictions.

"We've freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, announcing the news in a statement. "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."

Now managed in a similar manner to the Australian national flag, the Aboriginal flag is free to use moving forward, "but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way," the Prime Minister said.

"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."

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt confirmed that the new agreement resolves the copyright issues around the flag — and that "all Australians can freely display and use the flag to celebrate Indigenous culture".

The Minister continued: "now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away."

Oliver Lupton via Wikimedia Commons

Aboriginal flags and bunting will still be made by Carroll and Richardson Flagworld, the exclusive licensed commercial manufacturer; however, that arrangement doesn't restrict individuals from making their own flag for personal use.

The copyright deal also includes an agreement that future royalties from Flagworld's flag sales will be but towards the work of NAIDOC, the provision of an annual $100,000 scholarship for Indigenous students by the Australian Government in Thomas' honour, and the creation of an online history and education portal for the flag by the National Indigenous Australians Agency. And, the Australian Government will also display an original painting by Thomas recognising the flag's 50th anniversary and the historic transfer of copyright in a yet-to-be revealed but prominent location.

For more information about the Aboriginal flag and the transfer of its copyright, head to the Australian Government website.

Top image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons.

Published on January 25, 2022 by Sarah Ward

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