Footy codes at centre of new Aboriginal flag controversy

The AFL and NRL have found themselves at the centre of a strange controversy involving their use of the Aboriginal flag.

Unique to the red, black and yellow Indigenous emblem is the fact that the image is copyrighted, and owned by an individual.

Designer Harold Thomas secured ownership rights for the Aboriginal flag in a landmark 1997 court case.

The veteran artist and Luritja man granted licensing agreements to three companies, including Queensland-based clothing company WAM Clothing.

According to a report from the ABC, WAM Clothing has issued both the NRL and AFL legal notices, relating to their usage of the flag during their respective Indigenous rounds.

The ABC report said the NRL had confirmed they had received the notices, but had not made any public comment about them.

The AFL have not offered an official response.

In a statement to the ABC, WAM Clothing said they would continue working with the NRL and AFL.

The AFL and NRL have been issued legal notices over their usage of the Aboriginal flag.
The Indigenous flag is seen as Dockers players run to the banner during the round 11 AFL match between the Collingwood Magpies and Fremantle at Melbourne Cricket Ground. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

According to the statement, the company is “in discussions with the NRL, AFL and other organisations regarding the use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing.”

The Aboriginal flag has been widely flown, in particular by Indigenous athletes, since the 1970s, but the flag itself was only officially recognised by the Australian government in 1995.

Flag causing further controversy

Some believe the flag should not be subject to the whims of an individual copyright holder, due to its status as a national symbol.

Fiona Phillips, the former head of the Australian Copyright council, said the federal government should explore their options when it comes to gaining the license themselves.

The fact that the flag has been recognised since 1995 as an official Australian flag takes it out of the normal copyright context and gives it an extra public policy element," she said.

"It's quite unusual for copyright to be held by an individual and controlled by an individual rather than a government or statutory authority who, maybe for policy reasons, has other interests in mind.”

Fresh problems after Origin anthem furore

The new controversy follows the widely-publicised boycott of the Australian national anthem by several Indigenous NRL stars ahead of game one of State of Origin.

NSW players Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr and Queensland's Will Chambers followed through on their promise to boycott Advance Australia Fair at Suncorp Stadium.

Of the 34 players to take the field for the Maroons and Blues, 11 players appeared not to sing during the pre-match ceremony.

The leading quartet were joined in silence by NSW teammate Payne Haas and Queensland’s Josh Papalii, Dane Gagai, Dylan Napa, Kalyn Ponga, while Maroons debutants Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita appeared not to be singing.

A number of those players are of New Zealand or Pacific Island heritage.

The anthem came immediately after Queensland great Johnathan Thurston, who is in support of the players, performed the Welcome to Country.

The Indigenous group's latest stand for an inclusive national anthem that represents their people comes amid a burgeoning debate led by the rugby league community.

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