The Australian Aboriginal Flag represents Aboriginal Australians and is one of the officially proclaimed flags of Australia.
The flag was designed in 1971 by Aboriginal artist, Harold Thomas, who was a descendant of the Luritja people in Central Australia. Thomas holds the intellectual property rights to the flag’s design, and in 1997, the Federal Court of Australia officially recognised Harold Thomas as the creator of the Aboriginal flag. This protects the flag under the Copyright Act 1968 so that it can only be reproduced under this law or with Harold’s permission.
Mr Thomas decided to aware an exclusive licence for the manufacture and marketing of Aboriginal flags, banners and bunting to Carroll and Richardson Flags in 1998. Moreover, Birubui Art Pty Ltd, owned by Ben Wooster, was awarded a sole copyright license holder for souvenir items bearing the flag image, excluding those items specifically listed to Carroll and Richardson.
However, in November 2018, WAM clothing, partly owned by Ben Wooster, was granted a license for the use of the flag on clothing, and in June 2019, it was reported that they had demanded that Aboriginal-owned businesses stop selling clothing that featured the flag. Currently, WAM Clothing holds an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the flag’s copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to reproduce the flag on clothing. WAM, a non-indigenous business holds complete control of the Aboriginal Flag.
The Aboriginal Flag has been taken and now hundreds of Aboriginal businesses are being served ‘Cease and Desist’ letters from WAM clothing demanding that they stop selling products with the Aboriginal flag.
This is where the #FreeTheFlag movement was born. The Aboriginal Flag is slowly disappearing from our lives due to the extra costs and process involved in printing the flag on uniforms, posters and clothing. The Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed as a National Flag of Australia, but now there isn’t even equal access and rights to the Aboriginal Flag. The flag must be free for all, or we may never see the flag again.
One easy way to show your support is by signing this petition to change the licensing agreement around the Aboriginal Flag: https://www.change.org/p/australia-change-the-licencing-agreement-around-the-aboriginal-flag-pridenotprofit.
Another great way to support the #FreeTheFlag movement is by purchasing and wearing some Free the Flag merchandise. Clothing the Gap is a clothing brand where 100% of profit is used to influence social change that promotes equity and adds years to Aboriginal people’s lives: https://clothingthegap.com.au/collections/free-the-flag.
Lastly, talk. Raise awareness and have conversations about the Aboriginal Flag and the impact of copyright. We must #FreeTheFlag so that we don’t lose another piece of Aboriginal Australia from our lives.