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Nova Peris warns Indigenous Australians will create new Aboriginal flag due to copyright

Indigenous Australians will create a new Aboriginal flag if the government doesn’t buy the copyright for the current one, a former Olympian has warned.

Nova Peris, the first indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, said the Federal Government should be purchasing the flag’s copyright as ‘a matter of national emergency’. 

While most flags are not subject to copyright, the Aboriginal flag is unique because its creator Howard Thomas designed the flag in 1971 and won a High Court battle in 1997 to receive payment for its use. 

Ms Peris warned a senate inquiry that if the copyright wasn’t bought, then Indigenous Australians would design and create a new one. 

Nova Peris, the first indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, said the federal government should be purchasing the flag's copyright as 'a matter of national emergency' (Pictured at the world premiere of the Adam Goodes documentary)

Nova Peris, the first indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, said the federal government should be purchasing the flag’s copyright as ‘a matter of national emergency’ (Pictured at the world premiere of the Adam Goodes documentary)

Cathy Freeman walks a lap of honour, carrying the Australian and Aboriginal Flags, after winning Gold in the Womens 400m Final in 2002

Cathy Freeman walks a lap of honour, carrying the Australian and Aboriginal Flags, after winning Gold in the Womens 400m Final in 2002

‘I do believe the community will turn its back on the existing design and move to create a new symbol that represents the freedom, identity and survival of us Aboriginal peoples,’ she wrote to the inquiry, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Since Mr Thomas won his case, Ms Peris said there has been a significant ‘decrease in the visibility and availability’ of products with the Aboriginal flag.

‘It has also meant that for the first time since the early 1970s, that Aboriginal people are electing to not use the flag, starting conversations about designing a new flag.’ 

Mr Thomas enlisted three companies to control copyright licenses, including WAM clothing in 2018.

This means WAM Clothing collects fees from its use, and then passes a portion of the money back to Mr Thomas. 

It also means the flag cannot be used on clothing or in any media without the consent of WAM.  

Ben Wooster (left) and Semele Moore (right) with Aboriginal Flag designer Harold Thomas (centre) after their company WAM Clothing was given a copyright license in 2018

Ben Wooster (left) and Semele Moore (right) with Aboriginal Flag designer Harold Thomas (centre) after their company WAM Clothing was given a copyright license in 2018

Mr Thomas (pictured) won a High Court battle in 1997 to become the flag's sole copyright owner, before passing the copyright licenses for different products on to other companies

Mr Thomas (pictured) won a High Court battle in 1997 to become the flag’s sole copyright owner, before passing the copyright licenses for different products on to other companies 

Ms Peris (pictured) said the taxpayer should not be forking out to buy the copyright from Mr Thomas

Ms Peris (pictured) said the taxpayer should not be forking out to buy the copyright from Mr Thomas

WAM director Semele Moore said the copyright agreement was not stopping people from using the Aboriginal flag for personal use.  

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said the government will respect all parties involved in the acquisition of the design.

‘I commit to doing everything I can to bring about a resolution that respects not only the artist of the flag, but a resolution that respects the rights, enterprise and opportunity of all Australians,’ he previously said.  

An online petition calling for the government to step in and buy the copyright has so gained more than 144,000 signatures.

An online petition calling for the government to step in and buy the copyright has so gained more than 144,000 signatures

An online petition calling for the government to step in and buy the copyright has so gained more than 144,000 signatures

 

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