The Aboriginal Flag Is Now Free For Public Use, But The Government Now Owns It

"The flag was created in protest against the very people who now own it. This isn’t a win for Blackfullas."

free the flag

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After decades of negotiation and protest, the Aboriginal flag has been made free for public use as its artist has signed over the copyright to the Australian government.

The Aboriginal flag has been an official Flag for First Nations peoples in so-called Australia since Luritja artist Harold Thomas designed it in 1970. Thomas retained the copyright until the Morrison government announced that they had negotiated a 20 million dollar deal with Thomas today.

“The Aboriginal Flag will now be managed in a similar manner to the Australian National Flag, where its use is free, but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way,” read a statement released by the Morrison Government.

“All Australians can now put the Aboriginal Flag on apparel such as sports jerseys and shirts, it can be painted on sports grounds, included on websites, in paintings and other artworks, used digitally and in any other medium without having to ask for permission or pay a fee.”

Prior to today, permission had to be asked and a fee paid to Harold Thomas before the flag could be used. In a statement on selling the flag’s copyright, Thomas said, “I hope that this arrangement provides comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the Flag, unaltered, proudly and without restriction. I am grateful that my art is appreciated by so many, and that it has come to represent something so powerful to so many.”

Harold Thomas has retained copyright to the Flag as an NFT, which he minted for the Flag’s 50th anniversary in 2020.

Free use of the flag has been one of the conditions of the free the flag movement, which was created by Gunditjmara woman and Clothing the Gaps CEO Laura Thompson after discovering WAM Clothing held exclusive international rights to the flag.

One of the core tenets of the movement was for the flag to be owned by Aboriginal people. While its use may now be free, copyright to the flag is now owned by the very institution it was designed to protest against.

The government’s purchase of copyright to the flag has resolved all prior copyright cases. However, it calls into question whether the colony acquiring the rights to the flag of the people they’ve colonised can be considered a victory?