Australia Pays $20 Million To Buy The Copyright Of Aboriginal Flag, But It's Still Not Public Domain
from the just-ridiculous dept
Over a decade ago, we wrote about how Google had to edit out the Australian Aboriginal flag from a logo because of copyright concerns. An 11-year-old girl had won a contest to design a Google logo for Australia Day, and her logo included a simple drawing of the popular Aboriginal flag. Harold Thomas created a (fairly simple) flag design “as a symbol of unity and national identity” for the Aboriginal people in Australia. The flag became quite popular… and then Thomas basically became a copyright landlord, demanding payment for pretty much any usage.
In 2019, Thomas did a big licensing deal with a clothing company and proceeded to send out a bunch of cease-and-desist letters to others. It got so bad that the Australian Senate sought to have the government figure out a way to make sure the public could use the flag.
Apparently it took over two years, but the “deal” has been worked out — and it involves the Australian government paying over $20 million to basically buy out the copyright and the former licensing deals, but that still doesn’t mean the flag is truly in the public domain:
Mr Thomas will retain moral rights over the flag, but has agreed to give up copyright in return for all future royalties the Commonwealth receives from commercial flag sales to be put towards the ongoing work of NAIDOC.
A commercial company will keep its exclusive licence to be able to manufacture Aboriginal flags for commercial use, but the government said the company would not stop people from making their own flags for personal use.
So, given that he retains the moral rights, that suggests he will still have the power to stop anyone from using the flag in a way that he, personally, disapproves of. And the fact that there’s still a license for commercial use, means that the government is still effectively enforcing the copyright.
So, in the end this was $20 million of taxpayer money… to basically pledge not to go after people for personal use.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the flag would 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”.
“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,” Mr Morrison said.
“We?ve freed the Aboriginal Flag for Australians.”
With a whole bunch of caveats. If it’s used in a manner that someone disapproves of, you better believe that it won’t be seen as “free” for use. Hell, even the Google example from a decade ago probably wouldn’t work, because I would bet the Australian government would argue that was a “commercial” use.
Mr Thomas said the flag’s design was his dreaming story.
“The Flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people?s time on it. It is an introspection and appreciation of who we are,” he said.
“It draws from the history of our ancestors, our land, and our identity and will honour these well into the future.”
Seems just slightly ironic for a landlord who claimed ownership of a concept and then locked people out would call that a representative sample of “the timeless history of our land.”