Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Australian Google row over missing Aborigine flag

Australia Forever by Jessica Du (image from Google)
Jessica Du's winning image, left, and the version that appeared on Google, right

Google has been criticised in Australia after it removed an Aboriginal flag from a competition-winning drawing appearing on its homepage.

Australia Forever, by 11-year-old Jessica Du, had originally featured the flag and some of the country's animals.

But Google said they had to remove the flag after its designer, Harold Thomas, refused them permission to use it.

Mr Thomas said Google refused to pay a fair price but that Aboriginal rights groups can use the image for free.

Jessica Du entered her drawing in the Doodle 4 Google competition in 2009, saying it was a call for peace and for the protection of Australia's unique wildlife, Australian media reported.

The prize was to see her image on the Google homepage in Australia on 26 January - Australia Day - following the search engine's tradition of illustrating its name to mark special days.

I think you'll agree it's still absolutely beautiful
Katharina Friedrich, Google

The central 'o' of Google's name was originally formed by the bright yellow sun in the centre of the flag, which is officially recognised as the flag of indigenous Australians.

But the image which appeared online on Australia Day showed only the sun.

"You may have noticed that the Google Doodle on the homepage today is slightly different to Jessie's original entry," Google spokeswoman Katharina Friedrich wrote on Google's official blog for Australia.

She said it used imagery that Google "weren't able to publish on the homepage".


Mr Thomas - an Aboriginal elder - holds the copyright for the flag but allows groups supporting indigenous rights and issues to use it without charge, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

He said he charged for commercial use of the image but that Google had failed to negotiate with him properly.

Aboriginal flag (file image)
Designed during 1970s indigenous land rights protests
Black represents the indigenous people, red the connection to the earth and yellow the sun
Flown alongside the Australian flag on many official buildings

"They first contacted me wanting it to be used freely. You don't start off negotiations that way - they put me on the back foot, and therefore I had to protect my interests in a respectful way," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"They didn't give me a straight-out offer, and with all their money and machinery and know-how, they should have known what to do, it's as simple as that."

He said Google had eventually offered him "a pittance" for the image rights so he refused.

The absence of the flag prompted an angry reaction on internet forums, but Ms Friedrich said Jessica's drawing was still a worthy image to mark Australia Day.

"I think you'll agree it's still absolutely beautiful, and inspires lots of wonderful ideas about the Australia of our future," she said.

Mr Howard designed the flag in the 1970s as a symbol of the indigenous land rights movement in Australia.

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