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Fly free: Australia purchases copyright to Aboriginal flag

FILE PHOTO: Aboriginal flags rise above a crowd walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge on May 28, 2000. DG/PB/File Photo

The Australian government said on Tuesday that it had bought copyright to the Aboriginal flag, allowing it to be freely used after a business dispute prevented sporting teams and Aboriginal communities from doing so.

The news: Since 1995, the Aboriginal flag has been recognised as an official Australian flag, flying from government buildings and being adopted by athletic groups.

  • On the night of Australia Day, the government announced that the flag can be used on sports shirts, sporting grounds, websites, and artworks without permission or payment of a price, according to a settlement made with its inventor, indigenous artist Harold Thomas.
  • Thomas claimed he initially constructed the black, yellow, and red flag to lead a demonstration in 1971, and it had since become a symbol of indigenous togetherness and pride, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
  • The government has paid Thomas $20 million and terminated licences held by a small group of enterprises that had sparked controversy by demanding payment for the flag’s reproduction since 2018.
  • The licence holder has demanded money from health organisations and sporting groups, according to a parliamentary inquiry in 2020, which might lead to communities abandoning the flag to avoid legal action.
  • A “Free the Flag” campaign was led by prominent Aboriginal Australians, including former Olympian Nova Peris.
FILE PHOTO: A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill at the home of indigenous Muruwari elder Rita Wright, a member of the “Stolen Generations”, in Sydney, Australia, January 19, 2021. Picture taken January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

What they’re saying: The flag, according to Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt, has become an enduring symbol for Aboriginal people.

  • “Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’ artwork our own – we marched under the Aboriginal flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride,” he said in a statement.
  • “Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away.”

What’s important: Australia Day celebrations, which include a national public holiday on Jan. 26, have sparked debate since the date is considered by indigenous Australians as a commemoration of Britain’s invasion of their land.

  • It was on this date in 1788 that a British force went into Sydney Harbour to establish a penal colony, despite meeting settlements.
  • The question of whether the national holiday should be moved to a different day has been debated.
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