MELBOURNE, Australia – When Laura Thompson, an Indigenous businesswoman, received a cease-and-desist letter in 2019 asking her to stop selling clothing using the Aboriginal flag design because it violated copyright, she was shocked. .
Ms Thompson, from the Gunditjmara tribe and chief executive officer of Clothing the Gaps, said: “It never occurred to me that I could face legal action for using the Aboriginal flag I think I thought I could face legal action for. is all Aboriginal, a fashionable social enterprise in Melbourne.
Now, two and a half years later, the Australian government has purchased the rights to the flag for A$20 million ($14 million), a move that allows anyone to copy the symbol on clothing, merchandise and artwork without asking for permission or paying tuition.
“We have liberated the Aboriginal flag for Australians,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement statement announced the acquisition on Monday night.
Some have questioned the timing of the announcement, just two days before Australia Day, a divisive holiday that some see as a reminder of the continent’s brutal colonization and ongoing problems. as excessive and discriminatory policies towards indigenous peoples.
Others have raised concerns about the government’s control over the flag’s copyright.
“This is a victory for the roots who fought for the right to use our flag,” said Lidia Thorpe, native and Greens senator, speak in a post on Twitter. “But I worry that it won’t be in the community’s control. The Aboriginal flag belongs to the Aboriginal people”.
Under the heading “Don’t say the Aboriginal flag was ‘liberated’ – it belongs to us, not the Commonwealth,” says Bronwyn Carlson, a professor of Indigenous studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Written in an article published online Tuesday:
“Our flag contains our sorrows and our solidarity as a colonized people. It is not a ‘free for all’ icon. Nor is it a symbol that can be incorporated into the national spirit as a means of expressing some racial unity that overshadows the injustice and inequality experienced by Aboriginal people on a daily basis. “
The red, yellow and black Aboriginal flag was created by Harold Thomas, an Indigenous artist, in 1971 to lead an Aboriginal rights march. It quickly became a unifying symbol for more than 500 indigenous tribes of Australia. While the national flag is a symbol of colonialism and usurpation in the eyes of many Indigenous peoples, the Aboriginal flag represents their strength and struggle.
It was recognized as one of the official flags of the country in 1995 and is often flown over government buildings and public landmarks next to the national flag. It has been used by Aboriginal people and businesses for decades.
Unlike the Australian flag, whose copyright is owned by the federal government, the design and copyright of the Aboriginal flag is owned by Mr. Thomas.
In 2018, Mr. Thomas signed an agreement with WAM Clothing, giving the company worldwide exclusive rights to reproduce the flag on a wide range of clothing and merchandise. The length of the agreement for the rights is still unclear. But the company began aggressively enforcing its claim by sending infringement notices to sports federations and Indigenous businesses and nonprofit organizations, including Ms. Thompson’s company.
A congressional investigation into the flag’s copyright ensued conclude that the company’s actions were “heavy-handed” but “completely legal.” The company did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Ms. Thompson said she was particularly indignant when the owner of the company was not a local and one owner was been fined before by a court for selling artwork believed to have been hand-painted by Aboriginal people in Australia but actually made in Indonesia.
“No one, let alone a non-native company, has exclusive worldwide rights to the flag,” she said. So she started the “Unleash the flag” campaign.
When the copyright dispute started, many organizations that received infringement notices chose to discontinue use of the flag rather than pay the royalties to WAM Clothing, Ms. Thompson said. This includes the Australian Rugby Union and Australian Rugby, which have stopped displaying the flag on players’ shirts.
“It’s almost like this copyright has put an invisibility cloak on the flag and so we’ve lost the visibility of the community,” Thompson said. “We have lost some of the love and pride that we attached to the flag,” she added. “And now that we know we can use it, that love is back.”
With Mr. Thomas selling the rights to the Australian government, the flag will now be governed in the same way as the Australian flag, “its use is free, but must be presented in a respectful and dignified manner.” government statement said.
Mr. Thomas will retain “moral rights” to the flag.
He said in a statement through the federal government that he hoped “this agreement makes it comfortable for all Aboriginal and Australian people to use the Flag, unchanged, proudly and without restriction.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/world/australia/aboriginal-flag.html Australian government buys rights to indigenous flags