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Australian Aboriginal Flag Mess Is Getting Worse -- All Thanks To Copyright

Australian Aboriginal Flag Mess Is Getting Worse -- All Thanks To Copyright


from the don't-give-them-ideas dept

One of the longer-running sagas here on Techdirt concerns the disgraceful situation regarding the flag of Australia's Aboriginal peoples. Mike first wrote about this in 2010, and again in June of this year. The problem is that what is now widely regarded as the flag of Australia's First Nations was designed fairly recently by a private individual, not a group representing those peoples, or some official Australian government body. The designer, Harold Thomas, signed a licensing deal with a clothing company, Wam Clothing, which imposes hefty fees for the use of the design, even on non-profit health organizations giving away items that bear the flag:

In August, Wam Clothing charged the Indigenous Wellbeing Centre in Bundaberg AU$2,200 [about $1500] to use the flag on T-shirts it had given to patients who came into the clinic for a preventive health check.

According to an article in the Guardian, the licensing agreement between Wam Clothing and Harold Thomas specified that the design may be used by Aboriginal people for non-profit purposes. However:

Wam Clothing has said the terms of any licence agreements are confidential and legally privileged and only for the benefit of the parties to that agreement. They said the documents seen by Guardian Australia may have been fraudulently created.

Wam Clothing claims that it is the exclusive worldwide licensee for the use of the Aboriginal flag not just on clothing, but also on digital media. To prove the point:

In mid-August, the company issued a "cease and desist" notice to the creator of a Facebook discussion page called "New Aboriginal flag or flags discussion" because its "use of the digital image of the Aboriginal flag on social media platforms are [sic] being used in a negative light".

Copyright and secret deals have made the situation so ridiculous that in June 2019 the Australian Senate passed a motion calling on the national government to do all it could to "ensure that all First Nations peoples and communities can use the flag whenever they want without cost or the need for consent". More recently, the Australian MP Linda Burney called for the government there to sort things out:

"This situation is untenable," Burney said. "It’s unthinkable that the use of the Aboriginal flag is now governed by a secret agreement at the discretion of a for-profit company.

"It is a discredit to the flag's history and the strength it represents."

This is not just about copyright, or the rights of Australia's Aboriginal peoples. For Burney, the issue is personal:

"Like so many proud Aboriginal people, I've got a tattoo of the flag. What are they going to do? Try and cut it out of me?"

Probably best not to give them ideas, Linda…

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

Filed Under: aborigine, australia, copyright, flag, flag copyright, harold thomasCompanies: wam clothing

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