The Aboriginal Flag has been freed for public use after the copyright of the design was transferred to the Commonwealth in a $20 million Federal Government deal.
The historic move means that the flag can be used by all Australians in artwork, clothing, digital mediums and sports for free and without permission. It will see the end of commercial licenses, with the flag ‘belonging to all’ and following the same regulations as the Australian Flag.
The iconic flag was created by Luritja artist Harold Thomas in the 1970s, with the design representing Aboriginal people and their connection to country.
“I hope that this arrangement provides comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the Flag, unaltered, proudly and without restriction,” said Thomas in a statement.
“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. It draws from the history of our ancestors, our land, and our identity and will honour these well into the future.”
The Aboriginal Flag was first flown in Victoria Square/ Tarntanyangga in 1971 and has long been the symbol of Aboriginal Australia for decades.
However, the copyright has remained, until now, with Thomas, who passed the rights for merchandising to three non-indigenous companies. This sparked copyright battles and legal threats, including some levied against the NRL and AFL and saw the pivotal #FreeTheFlag campaign commence in 2020, spearheaded by Clothing the Gaps CEO and Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson. The movement saw over 165,000 people sign the petition to release the copyright.
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,” said Wyatt.
“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.”
Flagworld will remain the exclusive licensed manufacturer and provider of Aboriginal Flags. While this ongoing arrangement covers commercial production, Flagworld is not restricting individuals from making their own flag for personal use.
Further, the negotiations agreed upon will see Thomas retain the moral rights to the flag, with the Commonwealth to put all future royalties of Flagworld’s sale of the flag towards the ongoing work of NAIDOC.
The government will also establish an annual $100,000 scholarship in Thomas’ honour or Indigenous students to further the development of Indigenous governance and leadership.
“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.”