WAM Clothing, the non-Indigenous company at the centre of the dispute over rights to license the Aboriginal flag for commercial gain, will appear before a Senate committee on Monday as it looks into the deal and explores options to “free the flag” design for community use.
WAM Clothing was granted the exclusive use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing, physical and digital media by its designer and copyright holder, the Luritja artist Harold Thomas, in November 2018.
The company has since issued infringement notices to the AFL and NRL, as well as non-profit Aboriginal organisations, for their past use of the design.
WAM Clothing is part owned by Ben Wooster, whose previous company, Birubi Art, was fined a record $2.3m by the federal court after it found that it had breached consumer law by selling fake Aboriginal art.
In October 2018, the court found that Birubi had “made false or misleading representations that products it sold were made in Australia and hand-painted by Australian Aboriginal persons, in breach of the Australian consumer law”.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sought a high penalty as a deterrent, and to signify the “serious cultural harm” done by fake Aboriginal art.
Birubi went into voluntary liquidation in 2017 but not before selling its assets to another company, Gifts Mate, “established and controlled by Birubi’s former director Mr [Ben] Wooster”, the federal court judge Melissa Parry noted in her decision.
Wooster’s evidence will be the first time a representative from WAM Clothing has spoken publicly at any length about its arrangements with Thomas. Wooster is also appearing on behalf of Gifts Mate.
Thomas has had a licensing arrangement for 22 years with Carroll and Richardson Flagworld for reproducing the design as a flag.
Its managing director, Wayne Gregory, wrote to the inquiry: “We have a long and enduring partnership with Mr Thomas and have maintained the availability of the flag and related products for all Australians to purchase and freely use.”
The committee, chaired by NT Labor senator and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy, will consider the current and former copyright and licensing arrangements, who benefits from payments for its use, and the effect of those arrangements on Aboriginal organisations and communities.
Spark Health, an Aboriginal-owned and run social enterprise that makes merchandise with the tagline Clothing the Gap, was among the groups served with a cease and desist notice in 2018. Its managing director, Laura Thompson, said at the time that they were angry “a white business has got full licensing agreement and it’s a white business that’s profiting off it”. As a result she began the campaign to #FreeTheFlag.
The free the flag petition now has more than 140,000 signatures, and every team in the AFL has signed on.
Thompson, a Gunditjmara woman, will also give evidence to the committee on Monday.
The inquiry will look at all the options available to the government to resolve the issue, including negotiating outcomes with all licence and copyright holders, the viability of compulsory acquisition, and other ways to protect Thomas’s rights.
Guardian Australia understands Thomas has also been invited to appear.
Credit: Source link