Free the Flag – an Australian Copyright Dilemma

Save the flag image

How valid is the copyright in the Australian aboriginal flag?

The Aboriginal flag design was authored by an aboriginal artist, Harold Thomas, in the 1970’s as a political statement. Since then the flag has become an Australian icon, and has been widely used commercially, politically, for charity and in the sporting world. It was adopted  as an official national flag by the Australian government in 1995 under the Flag Act.

Harold Thomas has retained his copyright and has licensed its use to a few companies, notably to WAM Clothing in 2018. Since then WAM has been enforcing its exclusive rights to the copyright aggressively, to the dismay of many organizations and companies who have been using the flag image for years. Use of the flag has declined sharply. Among the reactions is a Free the Flag campaign, and the suggestion that the government should nationalize the copyright.

Does copyright law provide an answer? Should it?

For more background information, see