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Australian government buys rights to Aboriginal flag for $14 million

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Australian government buys rights to Aboriginal flag for $14 million

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The Australian government has purchased the copyright to the Aboriginal flag, making it freely available to the public and ending a long-running battle over the design.

In a deal worth more than A$20 million ($14 million), Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has secured the rights to Indigenous artist Harold Thomas, who created the flag over 50 years old.

The deal means the flag can now be reproduced on clothing, merchandise, sports jerseys or artwork, without permission and free of charge. In a statement, Morrison said the flag had been “released”, adding that his administration had “sought to protect the integrity of the Aboriginal flag, in accordance with the wishes of Harold Thomas”.

The red, black and yellow design has been recognized as Australia’s official flag since 1995. But it became the subject of a trade dispute when a company that licensed Thomas’s image began demanding payment of various organizations that used it, including a health charity. , several clothing brands and Australia’s National Rugby League.

A 2020 parliamentary inquiry, which backed government efforts to clear the artist’s rights, called the licensee’s actions “heavy” but “entirely legal”.

A man holds the Aboriginal flag during a rally in Sydney, Australia. Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

A “Free the Flag” campaign, launched in 2019, called for an end to exclusive licensing deals. He has won the backing of several high-profile Australian Aborigines, including former Olympian Nova Peris.

In a statement, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt described the flag as an “enduring symbol close to the hearts of Aboriginal people”, adding: “Now that the Commonwealth owns the copyright, it belongs to everyone and no one can take this away.”

Designed by Thomas ahead of a protest in Adelaide in 1971, the flag has since become an emblem for Aboriginal Australians and is often seen flying from government buildings. The yellow circle in the design represents the sun and the black band symbolizes the indigenous peoples, while the red part relates to both their blood and the land.
Australian government buys rights to Aboriginal flag for $14 million

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Harold Thomas, designer of the Aboriginal flag, photographed in 1994. Credit: Craig Golding/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

In an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, Thomas described the flag as a “deeply personal” work of art.

“When I created the flag, I created it as a symbol of unity and pride,” he wrote. “This pride we have for our identity that refers to the birth of our dreams, to the present existence and beyond. And we humble ourselves and pay homage to all that has been created and left for us.

“The flag was never intended to be a political platform. Going forward, the flag will remain, not as a symbol of struggle, but as a symbol of pride and unity.”

Thomas also revealed that he minted a digital copy of the flag as an NFT, or non-fungible token. He said he intended to maintain the digital token “on an ongoing basis, on behalf of Indigenous communities.”

Questions in progress

The deal was welcomed by the opposition Labor Party, with Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney using a TV appearance on Sky News Australia to express her “enormous sense of relief” that the flag had been ” released”.
But others questioned the timing of the deal, which was announced the day before the country’s increasingly controversial national holiday, Australia Day. Writing on Instagram, Indigenous artist Rachael Sarra accused Morrison of “hijacking the narrative so that on January 26 he can claim to be a hero.”
Australian government buys rights to Aboriginal flag for $14 million

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The Aboriginal flag projected over the Sydney Opera House on Australia Day 2021. Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Lidia Thorpe, a senator from the Australian state of Victoria, questioned whether the copyright for the flag should be held by the national government rather than the indigenous community. “It’s a victory for grassroots people who fought for our right to use our flag, but I’m afraid it’s slipping into community control,” she said. tweeted. “The aboriginal flag belongs to the aboriginal peoples.”

Morrison’s office said in a press release that Thomas would retain “his moral rights” to the design. And although the flag has been released for personal use, textile printing company Carroll & Richardson Flagworld “will remain the exclusive licensed manufacturer and supplier of Aboriginal flags and banners”. Royalties from these sales will go to the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC), with the government also announcing a new scholarship of A$100,000 ($71,000) in honor of Thomas.

In an email to CNN, the National Agency for Indigenous Australians confirmed that the multi-million dollar figure includes both fees paid to Thomas and “payments to licensees for the termination of their licenses”.

Australian government buys rights to Aboriginal flag for $14 million

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