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Australian Authorities Buys Copyright to Indigenous Flag

MELBOURNE, Australia — When Laura Thompson, an Indigenous businesswoman, obtained a cease-and-desist letter in 2019 telling her to cease promoting clothes that used the design of the Aboriginal flag as a result of it violated the copyright, she was shocked.

“I simply by no means thought for a second that I might face authorized motion for utilizing the Aboriginal flag that I assumed belonged to all Aboriginal folks,” mentioned Ms. Thompson, who’s from the Gunditjmara tribe and is the chief govt of Clothes the Gaps, a trend social enterprise in Melbourne.

Now, two and a half years later, the Australian authorities has purchased the copyright to the flag for 20 million Australian {dollars} ($14 million), a transfer that permits anybody to breed the symbol on clothes, merchandise and artworks with out looking for permission or paying a payment.

“We’ve freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned in a statement saying the acquisition on Monday evening.

Some have questioned the timing of the announcement, simply two days earlier than Australia Day, a divisive public vacation that some view as a reminder of the continent’s brutal colonization and the continued points like over-policing and discrimination towards Indigenous folks.

Others have raised issues in regards to the authorities’s taking management of the flag’s copyright.

“This can be a win for grass-roots individuals who fought for our proper to make use of our flag,” Lidia Thorpe, who’s Indigenous and a Greens senator, said in a submit on Twitter. “However I’m anxious that it’s not going into group management. The Aboriginal flag belongs with Aboriginal folks.”

Underneath the headline “Don’t say the Aboriginal flag was ‘freed’ — it belongs to us, not the Commonwealth,” Bronwyn Carlson, an Indigenous research professor at Macquarie College in Sydney, wrote in an article revealed on-line Tuesday:

“Our flag accommodates our sorrows and our unity as a colonized folks. It’s not a ‘free-for-all’ image. Neither is it an emblem that may be neatly injected into the nationwide psyche as a way of expressing some sort of racial unity that overshadows the injustice and inequality Aboriginal folks expertise each day.”

The pink, yellow and black Aboriginal flag was created by Harold Thomas, an Indigenous artist, in 1971 to steer a march for Aboriginal rights. It rapidly grew to become a unifying image for Australia’s greater than 500 Indigenous tribes. Whereas the nationwide flag was an emblem of colonialism and dispossession within the eyes of many Indigenous folks, the Aboriginal flag represented their energy and wrestle.

It was acknowledged as one of many nation’s official flags in 1995 and is commonly flown on authorities buildings and public landmarks subsequent to the nationwide flag. It has been utilized by Aboriginal folks and companies for many years.

Not like the Australian flag, whose copyright is owned by the federal authorities, the design and copyright of the Aboriginal flag had been owned by Mr. Thomas.

In 2018, Mr. Thomas signed a take care of WAM Clothes, giving the corporate the unique worldwide rights for the copy of the flag on a wide range of clothes and merchandise. The period of the deal for the rights stays unclear. However the firm began to aggressively implement its declare by sending infringement notices to sports activities leagues and Indigenous companies and nonprofit organizations, together with Ms. Thompson’s firm.

A parliamentary inquiry into the flag’s copyright later concluded that the corporate’s actions had been “heavy-handed” however had been “solely authorized.” The corporate didn’t instantly reply to an e-mail looking for remark.

Ms. Thompson mentioned she was notably outraged that the corporate’s homeowners weren’t Indigenous and that one proprietor was previously fined by a courtroom for promoting artwork that claimed to be hand-painted by Aboriginal folks in Australia however was really made in Indonesia.

“Nobody, not to mention a non-Indigenous firm, ought to have the worldwide unique rights to the flag,” she mentioned. So she began a “Free the Flag” marketing campaign.

When the copyright dispute began, Ms. Thompson mentioned, many organizations that had obtained infringement notices selected to cease utilizing the flag relatively than pay royalties to WAM Clothes. This included the Australian Soccer League and Rugby Australia, which stopped displaying the flag on gamers’ jerseys.

“It was virtually like this copyright put an invisibility cloak over the flag and, in flip, we misplaced the visibility of the group,” Ms. Thompson mentioned. “We misplaced a few of that love and delight we related to the flag,” she added. “And now that we all know we are able to all use it, that love has returned.”

With Mr. Thomas’s sale of the copyright to the Australian authorities, the flag will now be managed equally to the Australian flag, “the place its use is free, however have to be offered in a respectful and dignified method,” the federal government’s assertion mentioned.

Mr. Thomas will retain “ethical rights” over the flag.

He mentioned in a press release by way of the federal authorities that he hoped “this association offers consolation to all Aboriginal folks and Australians to make use of the Flag, unaltered, proudly and with out restriction.”

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