Every June, rainbow flags are on display to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
The most common Pride Month symbol, the rainbow-striped flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. It is in the public domain and has been embraced as the flag representative of the whole LGBTQ+ community.
In 2018, graphic designer Daniel Quasar created the progress flag, which uses the traditional rainbow flag as the background and places a chevron over it with the colors of the transgender flag, as well as brown and black to represent LGBTQ+ people of color and LGBTQ+ people living with or who have died from AIDS.
But in a now-deleted viral tweet, one person claimed that the progress pride flag is copyrighted and the traditional flag is not — making the latter the better option for the community. Others who have made the claim say that the copyright contradicts the traditional pride flag’s aim to belong to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. Many responses in turn pointed out that the people making the claims were missing key context.
Is the progress pride flag copyrighted?
The claim that the progress pride flag is copyrighted needs context. It’s copyrighted, but with a Creative Commons license that makes it free to use for non-commercial purposes, and requires permission from the artist for commercial use.
WHAT WE FOUND
The progress pride flag was created in 2018 by Daniel Quasar and uses a design that was inspired by other recent reimaginings of the traditional pride flag. A 2017 flag made in Philadelphia added black and brown stripes to represent marginalized LGBTQ+ people of color and LGBTQ+ people living with or who have died from AIDS, and a 2018 flag from Seattle included those colors plus the blue, white and pink stripes of the transgender flag.
Quasar said they separated the additional colors from the rainbow flag’s stripes to retain the flag’s original meaning — Gilbert Baker assigned a meaning to each color — and turned the additional colors into a chevron to show forward movement and the progress that still needs to be made.
Creative Commons licenses are designed to give the public permission to use a copyrighted work. The progress flag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license prevents people from using the design to sell for profit, requires credit to the creator when used and requires people who remix or transform the design to license their work with the same restrictions and freedoms.
People looking to use the flag non-commercially do not need to seek permission from Quasar before use, the Progress Initiative website says.
“Really I do not mind at all if you want to make art with the design (please do! I encourage you!) and I don’t even need you to do anything for me for it,” Quasar writes. “If you want to credit me for use of the flag, that’s cool but not required.”
“If you’re a small business or a smaller art-maker who wants to make a profit from something using the Progress design, please do!” Quasar writes. Quasar encourages small businesses to reach out to them if they have any questions, or want a free license to use the flag’s design.
Quasar tells large businesses and creators to reach out to them via email before selling something that uses the progress flag design.
“This is where permission is most requested so that the message of the flag is retained, and support is returned to the community it serves,” Quasar explains.
On a marketing podcast called Input Doc, Quasar said they “tiered” the flag’s permissions in response to “rainbow capitalism” — what they describe as a trend where companies exploit rainbow imagery to make a profit and then ignore the LGBTQ+ community once June ends.
“If you're a small business or an artist who wants to make something that you want to profit off of, come talk to me, I'll probably give you a free license,” Quasar said. “If a large, multi-million dollar company approached me and wanted to put out 15 products to make money off of the flag, I would want some kind of licensing deal. If you're going to make money off of something that I created within my community, it's only fair that you give back not just to me as the artist, but the community itself, too.”
Creative Commons prevents licensors, such as Quasar, from revoking the license’s legal permissions. That means anyone who already has a file of the flag could continue to use it non-commercially even if Quasar decided they no longer want it to be in the Creative Commons.
Permission to use the flag commercially comes from Quasar, and is not part of their license’s legal terms. Quasar could choose to stop giving permission to people to sell products with the flag’s design, although they cannot revoke the licenses they’ve already granted. Quasar has given no indication they plan to stop giving small businesses and artists permission to sell progress flag products.
A number of products with progress flag designs are sold on Etsy, an online storefront where independent artists sell their work. Some of the products include a note on the store page that says the sellers have a license to sell pieces with the design, some include notes crediting Quasar for the design and some of the items include neither a note about the license or credit. DC Comics, Target, Spotify and Lyft have all collaborated with Quasar to use the flag, and adaptations, including the additions of the intersex flag and bisexual flag, have been created.
The traditional rainbow-striped pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker is in the public domain. Baker fought an attempt by the Gay Community Centre, where he created the flag, to copyright it, according to a blog post by intellectual property expert Natalie Bravo.
“Throughout his life, he chose never to enforce his ownership under the U.S. Copyright Act, 1976,” Bravo said of Baker’s decision to keep the flag in the public domain. “Baker maintained that the flag should be accessible to all for public use and owned by everyone.”
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