Australia

Bob Katter calls on PM to buy Indigenous flag rights amid copyright saga

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The North Queensland MP has joined more than 30,000 people in calling on the government to change the licensing laws around the Indigenous flag.

Outspoken independent MP Bob Katter has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanding he claims ownership of the Indigenous flag, using compulsory acquisition if it can't be purchased for a "reasonable price".

The statement, released on Thursday evening, follows a Koori Mail investigation that revealed a series of Indigenous companies had been served cease-and-desist notices for use of the flag on clothing.

The notices were sent by non-Indigenous company WAM Clothing, which hold exclusive rights to the flag's image.

Mr Katter said it was unacceptable for any individual to own the rights to a flag that represents more than 3.3 per cent of the population.

The Change.org petition to get the Aboriginal flag's licensing agreement chnaged.
The Change.org petition to get the Aboriginal flag's licensing agreement changed.
SBS News

"It is outrageous that this great symbol which is respected throughout Australia has been used for commercial gain as is the case currently with the Queensland non-Indigenous, privately-owned organisation which currently owns the clothing licence,” he said.

“Our sporting bodies, our communities, our schools and our businesses should all be able to use the Aboriginal flag without fear of being issued a cease-and-desist notice or threatened with legal action."

Independent MP Bob Katter says it is
Independent MP Bob Katter says it is "outrageous" that the Indigenous flag can be owned by a private company.
AAP

Mr Katter joins more than 30,000 people who have so far signed a change.org petition started by Indigenous health organisation Spark Australia, aimed at lobbying the government to change the licensing rules around the flag.

Earlier this week, managing director of Clothing the Gap - an activewear clothing brand owned by Spark Australia that was the target of a cease-and-desist letter - Laura Thompson told SBS News the situation was "all about control".

“WAM will have a monopoly on the market. People who want to buy from an Aboriginal organisation won’t be able to get anything with the flag,” Ms Thompson, a Gunditjmara woman, said.

Shouldn't be used in a 'nefarious way'

Once obtaining the rights to the flag, either by purchasing at a "reasonable price" or "compulsory acquisition" if needed, Mr Katter said the government should hand over rights to the Honours Council to "choose the organisation or company who will own the rights to the logo".

The Honours Council, or Council for the Order of Australia, is a body within the Governor-General's office, chaired by former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Shane Stone.

Harold Joseph Thomas
Harold Thomas in 2016.
Carla Orsatti in AAP

The North Queensland MP was clear, however, that there should be some limitations on who can use the flag, including when it may be used in a "nefarious way" by a racist group.

Mr Katter came under fire earlier this week for footage that appears to show him declaring his allegiance to the far-right Proud Boys group, but the Member for Kennedy dismissed the video as "irresponsible larrikinism".

The flag was designed by Indigenous activist and Luritja man Harold Thomas during the land rights movement in the early 1970s. According to Mr Thomas, the colours of the flag - black and red with a yellow circle in the middle - represent Indigenous people, the colour of the Australian earth and a spiritual relation to the land and sun.

In 1997, the Federal Court of Australia recognised Mr Thomas as the owner of the design which meant his permission was needed for it to be reproduced. 

Protestors at an Invasion Day rally at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
Companies who use the Aboriginal flag on clothing products have received cease and desist notices from the company who owns the exclusive rights.
AAP

WAM Clothing, owned by Semele Moore and Ben Wooster, have since entered into an agreement with Mr Thomas, giving them the rights to use the flag on their products.

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