Google Prevented From Using Australian Aboriginal Flag Because It's Covered By Copyright

from the who-copyrights-a-flag? dept

A whole bunch of folks have been sending in the news of Google needing to edit out the Aboriginal flag that was originally a part of an Australia Day Google logo. Google had apparently run a contest for a logo and an 11-year-old girl had won, after designing the logo, using various animals native to Australia, with the Aboriginal flag behind one of the “O”s. But when the logo went up on the site, it was missing the flag:

It wasn’t a case of Google being insensitive. It was a case of Google being forced to remove it because, believe it or not, the Australian Aboriginal flag is covered by copyright, and the copyright holder wouldn’t let Google use it because the company had asked if it could use it for free. It’s hard to fathom why anyone would ever want a flag covered by copyright (do we need more incentives to create new flags?). The report notes that the artist “designed the flag as a symbol of unity and national identity” in the 1970s, but apparently that unity and identity doesn’t extend to anyone else actually displaying the flag without paying for it.

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Comments on “Google Prevented From Using Australian Aboriginal Flag Because It's Covered By Copyright”

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77 Comments
a-dub (profile) says:

How amusing. I did not know there was an Aboriginal flag and if it weren’t for this post, I still would not know. On the other hand, if Google had been allowed to use the flag….awareness would have been increased…its on Google’s main page and would have exposed millions of people to the flag. I dont see the logic in not allowing the flag to be used. If money was the issue, how much could they expect to get paid for allowing Google to use it? A dollar-two-fifty?

I wonder what the tribe’s elders have to say about copyright…

Yanda says:

Re: Re:

Interesting – are more people talking about (and therefore aware of) the flag because it’s not there than would have if it had simply been allowed to be seen with no fuss? Is this an inverse-Streisand effect (i.e. an obscure thing can become famous for a “take-down” and therefore known – whether the long term effect is positive or negative is yet to be seen.

I certainly would not have been aware of it.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

another case of ...

… the owner not being the interested party, nor interested in representing the party’s interests, namely the party represented by the flag.

‘Cause if you don’t let anyone use your flag, you don’t get represented.

And I wholeheartedly agree with the sarcastic “SOMEONE’S NOT GETTING PAID” sentiment. In fact, that was part of the slogan on the $10M dollar bill in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy:

“HAULIN’ ASS/GETTIN’ PAID”

Don says:

Re: Well then..

No, the girl is not guilty of anything. The flag has been deemed to be free to use by anyone, other than a commercial enterprise. Which was clearly stated in the article this story was taken from.

The owner is though, trying to protect his interests from mega-millionaires who think they should have anything they want for free.

R. Hammond (profile) says:

I think there are some colonialist undertones here that you aren’t picking up on. The fact that a commenter here thought the aboriginal people seemed like a “bunch of greedy bitches” just shows a complete ignorance of context and history.

Free culture is all well and good for those who’ve profited economically from their own culture for years. But to demand that the cultural property of indigenous peoples, minorities, and developing countries be free for use by western, FOR PROFIT companies like Google is arrogant at best (and that’s being generous). It may seem like an information revolution to you, but to them it’s just the same old song and dance (westerners taking their property and reaping all the economic benefits).

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, by expressing dismay at the artist’s decision to deny the use of the flag, and ridiculing his legal right to make that decision, one is implying that he should not have the right, and his cultural product should be used without his consent. I don’t really see how that would differ from simply demanding.

Yeebok (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think it was demanding it. Google asked for permission to use the whole image as submitted by the competition winner, but were turned down by the copyright holder because in his own words, they didn’t offer him enough money. Note that the holder allows any government department that may be assisting Aboriginal people use of the flag with no fee whatsoever.
A pertinent question would be : Has Google paid for other search page graphics ? Was the offer comparable (remember the flag would have been at most 1/2 the logo so a pro-rata offer would be fair)
1. Draw a yellow circle
2. Colour the remainder’s top half black, bottom half red 3. ??
4. PROFIT!

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

To me, it sounds like he denied permission because he was offended by their initial request to use it for free. Which then made him more predisposed to reject their monetary offers. If a huge, rich corporation like Google approaches a creative worker and asks if they can use their product for free, I can totally understand how that could be viewed as insulting.

But this is just me interpreting the articles.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“But to demand that the cultural property of indigenous peoples, minorities, and developing countries be free for use by western, FOR PROFIT companies like Google is arrogant at best “

Where do you come up with this flag being the cultural property of indigenous peoples, etc? The fee was being charged by one person. Whether it was an indigenous person or not is irrelevent. And the flag is less than 40 years old. The whole culture wasn’t in danger of exploitation by simply showing this recently created flag. Maybe if you could see around your hyperbolic rhetoric and bleeding heart for one minute you would realize how full of crap you are. Having said that, thank you for your contribution to the discussion, as off base as it was.

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@nastybutler77: You’re welcome, I’m glad you appreciate discussion. But your idea of exploitation seems to be based on degree, that there’s a line that one crosses and suddenly there’s exploitation. Any time someone’s product is taken away from them and used by another party for commercial gain, they’re being exploited. Google is a commercial entity (and yes, all these little actions such as cute Google logos add up to their success), and they apparently proposed initially that they take this artist’s product without compensation. That would be exploitation.

I’m not suggesting that Google is a menace or some neo-colonial power, though they certainly could’ve been more tactful it seems. I am expressing a viewpoint that may have been taken by the artist, who as an aboriginal, is acutely aware of the history of exploitation of his people. He may have seen Google’s expectation of using his work for free or on the cheap as an extension of that history.

Of course, it’s an assumption, but so is the idea that he’s just a greedy artist trying to get money. We don’t really know the whole truth from the articles, I’m just offering an alternate view.

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

@nasch: I was responding to the implications made by Mike and some comments, where it was offered that this copyright claim was superfluous and Google should be allowed to show the image. Of course, Google did not infringe, it was a failed business transaction as you described. I have no problem with what occurred, I just was surprised that other people did.

The only issue I see is Google’s presumption that they should receive creative content for free (as they initially offered), which is awful presumptuous for a corporation. It makes sense why they would try, but that still doesn’t make it right.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Let me see if your thinking carries over to other groups. Should a TV broadcast company have to pay the Red Cross to use their name and logo in spots promoting their Haitian relief donation phone number? How about if Google had a contest where a little girl designed a logo with Amnesty International’s logo incorporated into it, despite Google not stating that was a condition of the contest? Should Google have to pay them as well for promoting their organization and bringing awareness to their cause?

To me that seems just as rediculous.

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

@nastybutler77: Neither the aboriginal people nor Harold Thomas can be considered a non-profit group like Red Cross or Amnesty International, so to me your analogy seems ridiculous. Harold Thomas isn’t even a group, he is a person. And in both examples you gave, you can bet that Google would ask the permission of the organization to do so. Google asked Harold Thomas and he said no. I really don’t see where the outrage comes from.

Refer to monkytypist’s comment above for a clearer explanation of the context and meaning of the flag. As you can probably glean from both the article and the comment, it is not simply about money. You can disagree with Thomas’ decision all you want, but this is actually an example of what is good about copyright law, rather than a reason to scoff at it.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think there are some colonialist undertones here that you aren’t picking up on. The fact that a commenter here thought the aboriginal people seemed like a “bunch of greedy bitches” just shows a complete ignorance of context and history.

Free culture is all well and good for those who’ve profited economically from their own culture for years. But to demand that the cultural property of indigenous peoples, minorities, and developing countries be free for use by western, FOR PROFIT companies like Google is arrogant at best (and that’s being generous). It may seem like an information revolution to you, but to them it’s just the same old song and dance (westerners taking their property and reaping all the economic benefits).

It seems to me that you totally misunderstand the purpose of a flag.

Of course the commenter who described the aboriginals as “a bunch of greedy bitches” is off mark too – because they wern’t asking for money.

What has actually happened is that just one “greedy bitch” has denied the aboriginal people and their culture some much needed publicity and spoiled the day of an 11 year old.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But to demand that the cultural property of indigenous peoples, minorities, and developing countries be free for use by western, FOR PROFIT companies like Google is arrogant at best (and that’s being generous).

I think the prevailing sentiment is is that they can keep their flag to themselves if they want to, but why would they want to?

It may seem like an information revolution to you, but to them it’s just the same old song and dance (westerners taking their property and reaping all the economic benefits).

Nobody was trying to “take” anybody’s “property”. This ended up just fine. The two parties didn’t agree on a price and so there was no deal. Google goes about its business, and the silly artist gets to look silly in front of the whole world.

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: What about this article?

Mike’s use of it, I believe, would qualify as fair use, as he is commenting on the content of the photo, and using it to illustrate his point.

Google’s use would be considered to be a promotional use by a commercial entity, and treated the same as if they used an image in an advertisement.

Vic says:

Re: Re: What about this article?

Right! Promotional for the Australian aboriginals. As I see it, right now they are not promoted anymore…

The good old “do not advertise me without paying me first”. Except that promoting would have gone to the aboriginals as a large group of people but the payment would have been to a single person, who thinks that he represents the whole group…

A very interesting self-contradictory concept of some token (a flag in this case) representing a group of people with all the rights to that token belonging to a single person. (Sounds a little like, I do not know, monarchy?)

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What about this article?

But we’re assuming the the aboriginal people need or value this promotion. A big problem in a lot of the discussion on this blog is that it assumes that promotion, exposure, awareness, etc. is an end, and that it always has real value. In the case of a corporation with something to sell, we can more easily conclude that it sometimes does have value, but with a minority ethnic group it’s a whole lot trickier.

Also, I don’t think we all know the extent to which this flag is considered part of the aboriginal cultural heritage (it was only made in 1978, after all). I certainly don’t, and it’s perfectly possible than not a lot of value is attached to it by them, thus rendering this artist’s decision to be a bit less tyrannical.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about this article?

Here is a quote from a Wiki page about the flag:

The Aboriginal flag sometimes substitutes the Union Flag in proposed new Australian flag designs. Such flags are presented in science fiction as futuristic Australian flags, as in the film Event Horizon, where it was worn by Sam Neill.[10] Many Aboriginal people object to this use, including Harold Thomas, who said “Our flag is not a secondary thing. It stands on its own, not to be placed as an adjunct to any other thing. It shouldn’t be treated that way.”

So, as we see it has been used before without it’s creator’s agreement. Not a word about a lawsuit against any movie studios. So, I believe, they do appreciate the flag being made visible for some reason?

Vic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about this article?

Here is a quote from a Wiki page about the flag:

The Aboriginal flag sometimes substitutes the Union Flag in proposed new Australian flag designs. Such flags are presented in science fiction as futuristic Australian flags, as in the film Event Horizon, where it was worn by Sam Neill.[10] Many Aboriginal people object to this use, including Harold Thomas, who said “Our flag is not a secondary thing. It stands on its own, not to be placed as an adjunct to any other thing. It shouldn’t be treated that way.”

So, as we see it has been used before without it’s creator’s agreement. But there is not a single word about any lawsuit against any movie studios. So, I believe, they do appreciate the flag being made visible for some reason?

Phill says:

I'm shocked

That so money people weren’t aware of the Aboriginal flag. Cathy Freeman had one wrapped around her at the Olympics… almost any news about Aboriginal welfare or achievements etc has the flag in it somewhere – I’m pretty sure they even fly one at parliament house.

I’m almost certain all primary school children for YEARS have been taught about it. I’m 24 and I’m pretty sure I learned about it during primary school.

Meanwhile, copyrighting a flag is a bit sus.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We should have

We should have copyrighted the American flag. We could have charged all the protesters who want to burn it. The money would have cut at least 10% of of the national debt.

Err, that’s not the way copyright works. Your comment, however, exemplifies the way some people think copyright gives the holder control of all uses. It doesn’t.

J. Doe says:

Seems Rational To Me

At first I disagreed with R. Hammond but then I read the article more carefully. The creator’s position seems perfectly reasonable to me. I imagine the conversation along these lines:

Google: Hi, can we use your flag in our commercial logo for free?
Creator: Sorry, if it’s not being used in a non-commercial or not-for-profit fashion there is a fee attached to use of the image.
Google: Oh, well we don’t see the value in paying for using it.
Creator: Ok, then don’t. Thanks for calling.

Seems perfectly reasonable to me. Seems a lot of inappropriate adjectives are being thrown around about this individual. In the end I think R. Hammond is (nearly) spot on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seems Rational To Me

As opposed to:

Google: Hi, can we use your flag in our commercial logo for free?
Creator: (covers mouthpiece on phone) Fucking hell it’s Google, they’re LOADED!! I’ll milk these bastards for as much as I can!! (uncovers mouthpiece) Hello! I want a million pounds please.
Google: Stick it up your arse m8 *click*
Creator: He… HELLO? Shit, maybe I should of just gone for a couple of hundred grand. Wait, come back……

Hosermage (profile) says:

look at it this way...

The goal was to have a picture that represented Australia for the Australia day. A little girl simply thought it would be nice to include the flag because it represented a part of Australia, not knowing the flag was copyrighted. The copyright holder, while should be flattered, has perfectly good reason to deny the request since it may not want to have any ties to any corporations. Now ask yourself this:

Would you feel any different if it was Microsoft (or any other evil company) that made the request and was denied?

If a Chinese company was making a drawing that represented America and it included the confederate flag, would you feel any better if it was denied to do so, assuming the flag was copyrighted?

Anyone can make a flag, you can make a flag for your family if you want and copyright it. Would you give anyone free permission to use it? Wouldn’t you feel that it’s your right to deny anyone from using it, regardless of your reasons?

R. Hammond (profile) says:

Re: look at it this way...

Exactly, this is one of the points I was trying to make made more clear. Put aside the stuff I mentioned about colonialism (but still think about it!), this makes sense as a simple artist vs corporation story.

I can understand why people commented harshly about the artist, as Mike’s original post accuses this man of keeping the flag all for himself. But the article clearly states that he allows its use for non-profit/non-commercial purposes, and the Australians who have commented have corroborated this. Google doesn’t fall under that umbrella. Sounds like a basic Creative Commons license to me.

Richard Clowes (profile) says:

Aboriginal Flag

It was inappropriate for google to include the ‘Aboriginal’ flag in its doodle as part of the Australia Day celebration as this flag is not Australian. It is a copyright design used by a number of minority groups for political purposes and signifies division and disunity rather than national unity and belonging.

Vic says:

Re: Aboriginal Flag

I think it is inappropriate for you to write such accusations about Google. It did not include anything! Go read the original article!

(Also if it is used by a number of minority groups seems only strange that usage/rights belong to only a single person, doesn’t it? I suspect some members of aboriginal groups could have different opinion on how and when to use it…)

ITS JUST A DAMN FLAG FFS says:

this could have been some good advertising for the natives

but not now
and its exactly as i have been saying if we had used your flag people might go WHO owns that and maybe YOU might have simply asked google to lpace a link to a native website for informations.

NOW thats reasonable and im sure most ocuntries if you say “name and country” or “name and affiliation”
links ot pages come up with most likely in top ten the main page. INSTEAD now you get negative advertising and people aren’t as likely to think your very nice people.

monkeytypist (user link) says:

Gosh you guys are ignorant sometimes. This isn’t the US flag; it’s a flag that represents a particular community. The artist, Harold Thomas, came up with the idea for a flag and designed it all on his own initiative. Nobody before that was saying “hey, let’s commission someone to design an Aboriginal Flag”. His design took off because it was popluar; another one might not have been.

The Aboriginal Flag belongs to Aboriginal people; Harold Thomas holds the copyright primarily so he can insure that the culture and pride of the people it represents (an oppressed, marginalised group within Australia) can be respected with its use. When whitefellas appropriate the flag without asking, it pisses Aboriginal people off no end. It’s their cultural symbol, their own identity, their pride.

Finally, Australian law (just like the law of many, many countries) restricts the usage of the *national* flag for commercial purposes as well. If google had used the national flag in a similar way, it most probably would have been in breach of the Flags Act. But that law is breached so often it’s not funny, so the government simply doesn’t police breaches. In the case of the Aboriginal Flag, there is an individual – the creator of the flag – who has the ability and determination to prevent the flag’s misuse.

If a flag is an important symbol, it should be used properly and not misused. That misuse can include not acnkowledging the cultural contributions of Australia’s indigenous population – something that, alongside with dispossesion, the separation of children from their parents, spreading disease, and many many other crimes – white Australians have been guilty of for a long time.

Ben (profile) says:

Australia Day is not an aboriginal holiday, it is a reminder of white Australia’s history of mistreatment of the indigenous people.

It is seen by many aboriginal people as a white celebration of the stealing of the black people’s land, and the near genocide of the aboriginal people.

To associate the aboriginal flag with this celebration would be offensive to a lot of people – like a nativity scene with santa claus sleeping in the manger. (ok, bad analogy, but you get the idea)

I’m sure the little girl wouldn’t have been aware of this, and was quite rightly trying to include different aspects of Australian culture in her drawing.

jendelui (profile) says:

@R.Hammond: I believe the correct term is ‘bastards‘ not ‘bitches‘, as this is Australia we’re talking about 😉

Its really no surprise at all, that so many people (even commenters) could be confused about needing to protect and defend their intellectual property in this day and age of moral panics and the copyright wars.

(But it was the copyright owner, not the 11yo girl who stopped the showing. The piece is lovely and well designed, it could still be a hand drawn composite, and I’m not saying it is or isn’t, but the figures do look clip-art-ish enough that it strikes me as an example of a kind of artwork that touches the issues and launches interesting debates and discussions akin to the Obama Hope poster – but, in this case they were able to go ahead with a like image sans the disputed part.)

The flag has become our symbol, and it represents all the indigenous nations and tribes of the islands of Australia. It is ubiquitous in Australia now, but it certainly has not always been the case (props @monkeytypist).

IMHO it does seem an opportunity was lost, but there is always a story behind the story, (@Don: and in that regard I’d guess you’re right. Its could be a case of Google stepping into a sort of feud, methinks).
Maybe if copyright holder read more of Mike’s articles on economics they can work out for themselves that the exposure due to Google’s use could have been a useful non-scarce good to add value to the scarce goods (whatever they might be, e.g. endorsements/ marketing/ advertising deals, speaking engagements, educational flag kits for schools, who knows?) at their disposal. Maybe they could make up the money they ‘lost’ from this copyright deal in other ways by saying yes to Google?, there’s always next year!

But seriously, thats totally the decision of the copyright owner, and it represents struggle. It became the symbol of indiginous rights and was made the “official” Aboriginal flag by the government, so there has been struggle as well in the story of the flag. Recently in Tasmania, after long struggle trying to get the flag accepted in the Parliament, they finally displayed the flag in Parliament. The way it was done was the way it was always done in White Australia, regarding ‘the blacks‘ – to them, not with them.

peace

Bob says:

betcha the convo went something like this.

google rep “Hi, are you the copyright holder of the Aboriginal flag?”
flag owner – “Ey yeah mate, dats roight.”
rep – we at google would like to use your flag”
owner”aww yeah, you gotta dolla? gotta some smokes?”
rep – “actually we want it for free, just for a weekend.”
owner – “No deal cunt, you liek dem gubbament blokes gon try steal our land agin! you racist muvfucka! you white ghost!”

rep “….”

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