How Did A Flag Of Their Own Is Regulated by A Copyright?
“I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.” — John Thune
Unfortunately, the Australian Aboriginal flag landed far from the land of freedom and liberty. It is, in fact, restricted and copyrighted. Following the AFL Indigenous Round this coming weekend, the Aboriginal flag won’t sail its red, yellow, and black with pride this year because it received cease and desist warnings over the use of the Aboriginal flag that has left everyone baffled.
A non-indigenous company called WAM Clothing, founded in 2018 by non-Indigenous Semele Moore and Ben Wooster, owns the exclusive rights of the flag on clothing. It resulted in an online petition demanding the change of its copyright arrangements. But how did this widely known flag of the first nation people have been the subject of copyright?
In July 1971, a Luritja man, Harold Thomas, designed a flag for the National Indigenous day. But not until July 1995, when the proclamation of the Governor-General wanted to adopt it as the flag of Aboriginal people, many came forward to claim as the artist who originally designed it. Through many proven tracks of design processes, Mr Thomas successfully became the authorship of the design before the Federal Court in 1997. Therefore he can either grant licenses to his appointed parties or refuse its use in any forms whatsoever. The Australian law of copyright has seventy years after the author’s death or anyone he wills to assign on its rights, and he has the right to be against making any reproductions of the flag. It includes non-commercial use.
Also in the same year, 1997, the Federal Court decision acknowledged Mr Thomas to grant a copyright license to Flags 2000. The company has full right to reproduce as well as produce the flag in any forms. In the past, both Flag 2000 and Mr Thomas had made a success copyright lawsuit against Mr Smith — He had sold copies of the flag without any permission. Since October 2018, he granted the copyright license to WAM Clothing. It turned out that one of the owners of WAM Clothing, Ben Wooster, happened to be the director of Birubi Art.
The twist and turns of the flag copyright got even got more complicated. The Federal Court decided that Biruby Art has been in their conducts in misleading and deception by faking aboriginal arts and souvenirs, such as boomerangs, allegedly made in Indonesia instead of Aboriginal artists in Australia.
Following the report by Indigenous-owned newspaper, The Koori Mail, that many Aboriginal-owned businesses received an order of cease and desist, an Aboriginal-owned business Clothing the Gap initiated a petition on Change.org in 2019 to lobby the government to change the licensing agreement. Until today, August 19, 2020, it hits more than 96,000 signatures.
Under the hashtag on their petition page #PrideNotProfit Clothing The Gap, a fashion brand owned by Spark Australia — an Aboriginal health promotion business, asserted that it is not a question of copyright but a question of control.
Keira Jenkins, Writing for SBS News, wrote that the Managing director Laura Thompson told SBS News, Keira Jenkins, that the control of the company over the flag has to stop (SBS News). She added her disappointment to the monopoly of the licensing agreement to a particular company.