Labor’s Linda Burney is demanding the federal government take steps to sort out what she has described as a “secret agreement” that controls the use of the Aboriginal flag in public, because it is now unclear whether her own tattoo of the flag is a breach of copyright.
“This situation is untenable,” Burney said. “It’s unthinkable that the use of the Aboriginal flag is now governed by a secret agreement at the discretion of a for-profit company.
“It is a discredit to the flag’s history and the strength it represents.”
The flag’s designer, Luritja artist Harold Thomas, holds copyright over the flag and has entered into a number of licensing agreements.
One is with Wam Clothing, a non-Indigenous company which says it is “exclusive worldwide licensee for the use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing, physical media and digital media”.
Wam Clothing has said the terms of any licence agreements it has with Thomas are confidential, so it remains unclear what “physical and digital media” might include.
Burney asked whether a tattoo of the Aboriginal flag she has on her arm might breach the terms of the agreement.
“Like so many proud Aboriginal people, I’ve got a tattoo of the flag. What are they going to do? Try and cut it out of me?”
Wam Clothing has been contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline. However, in a previous statement the company said “any organisations who wish to understand what Wam Clothing’s licences include, are invited to contact us”.
The Indigenous Wellness Centre, a non-profit Aboriginal medical service in Bundaberg, did so in June, and had to pay $2,200 to reproduce the flag on T-shirts it gave out to patients who came into the clinic for a health check.
Wam calculated the fee at 20% of the cost price of the batch of T-shirts the IWC had already given out. In correspondence, Wam said 20% was “a flat percentage applied across the board”. IWC refused to pay a 15% fee WAM offered because WAM wanted it to sign a confidentiality agreement as a condition of receiving the discount.
Last month a Facebook group called “New Aboriginal flag or flags discussion” received a “cease and desist” letter from Wam Clothing because its “use of the digital image of the Aboriginal flag on social media platforms are [sic] being used in a negative light”.
“It’s incredibly disturbing to hear reports of people being stopped from using the flag on social media and of non-profit Aboriginal health centres being hit with massive bills,” Burney said.
Burney said it was important that the terms of the arrangement were “transparent and open to scrutiny”.
“The government has a responsibility to try and sort this out.
“The flag should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it.”