Did you know that the Aboriginal flag is copyrighted? Well, it is now. And Aboriginal people are losing the rights to use their own flag.
As if Australia hasn’t done enough to our Aboriginal population, a white company now legally owns exclusive rights to clothes with the Aboriginal flag on it.
So yes, now Aboriginal people can’t even use their own flag on their own merchandise.
WAM Clothing, a company owned by non-Indigenous Ben Wooster and Semele Moore who were previously found guilty of selling fake Aboriginal art, has just bought worldwide rights to the Aboriginal flag. They’re serving cease and desist notices to Aboriginal owned companies such as Clothing the Gap and Spark Health for selling merchandise with their own flag on it.
It’s worth remembering that 100% of Clothing The Gap’s profits go to supporting health promotion in Aboriginal communities. These companies actively work to better the welfare of Aboriginal communities, raising money to improve health and life expectancy. Laura Thompson, co-owner of Clothing The Gap, told The Sydney Morning Herald she just wants to “free the flag”.
WAM Clothing is threatening to sue Aboriginal people who sell flag merchandise to raise money to close the 17 year gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian life expectancy. Take a minute to process that – they are preventing Aboriginal companies from using their own identity and impact to be with and support their communities.
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Honestly, this is pretty fucked. The flag should not be copyrighted at all, let alone owned and profited off by white people who are exploiting Aboriginal identity. But it’s not just about WAM Clothing. It’s about the fact that this moral shitshow is even possible right now.
The Bigger Picture
For those who think that this is justified because WAM Clothing legally owns the rights – that honestly doesn’t mean anything. Just no. Buying the rights to someone else’s flag is morally bankrupt, regardless of legality. A flag should never be owned by an individual and it should always be able to be used by those it represents.
Aboriginal people not being able to use their own flag – one that was created amidst a history of rebellion and oppression – is just another way our country is screwing them over. We need to acknowledge that Australian law has never been fair to Aboriginal people. Again, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right.
As Indigenous-run Facebook page Feminism and Decolonisation stated in regards to flag rights,
“By law, Australia was declared Terra Nullius. By law, genocide has been enacted. By law, our children are taken. By law, we are unjustly incarcerated. “The law” and “justice” rarely intersect.”
There is a petition that nearly 20,000 people have signed to change the licensing agreements of the Aboriginal Flag. The petition is not just about reclaiming the flag. It’s about reclaiming control of their own market and who gets to profit off a flag that was created for the identity and recognition of Aboriginal people.
It now seems that the NRL, Cricket Australia and the AFL have also received notices from WAM Clothing. They’re really out here trying to police everyone, huh?
As Laura Thompson told The Sydney Morning Herald, “The flag represented a struggle and a resistance movement and now it just feels like a struggle to use it.”
WAM Clothing has raised an ugly debate over who can monopolise Aboriginal merchandise – let’s hope (and fight) for a result that empowers the Aboriginal community.
Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald, Facebook @FeminismAndDecolonisation, Instagram @wamclothing, GIPHY, Wikimedia Commons.