The flag can now be used on sports jerseys, sporting grounds and websites without payment of a fee
The Australian government has paid A$20m (£11m) to acquire the copyright to the Aboriginal flag and transfer it to public hands for the first time in a move to end long-running bitter disputes over who can use it.
The historic deal came after two years of negotiations with Aboriginal Australian artist Harold Thomas – who designed the flag in 1971 as a protest symbol – and the Statebond regering.
“Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’s artwork our own – we marched under the Aboriginal flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride,” said Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.
“Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away.”
Prime minister Scott Morrison said his government had “freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians”.
The flag – with its upper black half representing the indigenous Aboriginal Australian people, the lower red half as the red ochre earth, and its yellow circle as the land and sun – can now be used on sports jerseys, sporting grounds, websites and in artworks without permission or payment of a fee, the government said on the eve of the Australia Day national holiday.
The deal comes following pressure from Aboriginal Australian groups and resistance from sporting leagues which began to refuse to pay the leaseholders to display the flag.
Many Aboriginal Australian people have said that the flag was being “held hostage” by copyright deals which limited its use despite it being the dominant Aboriginal emblem.
The Aboriginal flag’s copyright had been retained by Mr Thomas, unlike the national flags, whose rights are held by Commonwealth and are free to be used by the people.
The symbol was entangled in a legal battle between its designer and a small number of companies which stirred controversy since 2018 by demanding payment for the flag’s reproduction. The settlement with the Commonwealth has extinguished licences held by all the small companies and it can be used freely by the people.
Describing it as a deeply personal piece of artwork, Mr Thomas said the flag was never intended to be a political platform.
“In the future, the flag will remain, not as a symbol of struggle but as a symbol of pride and unity,” Mr Thomas wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Morrison said: “Throughout the negotiations, we have sought to protect the integrity of the Aboriginal flag, in line with Harold Thomas’s wishes," hy het gesê. “I thank everyone involved for reaching this outcome, putting the flag in public hands.”
Mr Thomas will continue to retain his moral rights over the flag and all the future royalties will be directed towards the ongoing work of the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC).
The government will also establish an annual A$100,000 (£52,891) scholarship in Mr Thomas’s honour for indigenous students.