The federal government is reportedly in negotiations to purchase the rights to the Aboriginal flag so the design can be used by all Australians.
‘Delicate and sensitive’ talks are being held with the Aboriginal artist who designed the flag, Harold Thomas, and its non-Indigenous licensees.
Representatives for Mr Thomas, the licensees and the National Indigenous Australians Agency met for discussions last Thursday, The Australian reported.
Controversy over the rights to use of the flag were sparked last month when the AFL was unable to use it in their Indigenous Round this year due to copyright laws.
The Morrison government (prime minister Scott Morrison pictured) is reportedly in negotiations with copyright owners for the rights to the Aboriginal flag
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
The AFL was unable to reach a deal with WAM Clothing to paint the Aboriginal Flag on the the ground for its Indigenous Round this year (Geelong match pictured in 2018)
While most flags are not subject to copyright, the Aboriginal flag is unique because Mr Thomas won a High Court battle in 1997 to receive payment for its use.
Since then Mr Thomas has 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.
The AFL shocked fans with the announcement they wouldn’t be able to spray paint the flag inside the centre circle of the grounds for this year’s Indigenous Round.
They had been unable to secure a deal with WAM and instead opted to write the word ‘Deadly’ and the name of Indigenous people local to the area on the field.
The move led to anger and outrage from prominent Indigenous names including sports star Lance Franklin, who had his own run-in with WAM last year.
Franklin came under fire after he chose to pay WAM for use of the flag for his personal clothing brand.
In response the Sydney Swans star said he was ‘deeply disturbed’ by the attacks on him, pointing out that going through WAM was the only ‘legal’ way to use the flag.
The Commonwealth must compensate the licence holders and then purchase the copyright from Mr Thomas if it is to become the sole owner of the Aboriginal flag.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said the government will respect all parties involved in the acquisition of the design.
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
Members of the Indigenous community have called for copyright to be removed from the flag to ensure it can be used by all Australians (spectators at the AFL Indigenous Round pictured)
‘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 explained.
The Senate has been predicted to establish a committee to examine licensing arrangements and compulsory acquisition for the Aboriginal flag.
Mr Wyatt said a parliamentary inquiry would not be beneficial and ‘we should not bully our way to a satisfactory outcome’.
A statement from Mr Wyatt’s office said the Federal Government is ‘seeking to resolve the matter, it is a delicate and complicated issue’.
‘The minister would like to see a resolution to this matter in a way that respects the rights of the flag’s creator while ensuring the flag continues to be a symbol of unity for Aboriginal people.’
The long-planned talks may also result in the copyright for the flag design resting with a statutory body or similar, rather than the Commonwealth.
Copyright for the Torres Strait Island flag is held by the Torres Strait Island Regional Council.
Indigenous AFL star Lance Franklin (pictured) poses with the Aboriginal Flag near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Franklin was last year embroiled in controversy after he paid WAM Clothing for the rights to use the Aboriginal Flag on his own personal clothing brand