Penalty flag: Putting a price on patriotism

In the Cayman Islands, patriotism doesn’t come free of charge. According to our government, the cost can range up to $5,000 per display.

On Dec. 30, the Office of the Deputy Governor issued a statement “reminding the public” that permission is required from Cabinet in order for people or companies “to reproduce the Coat of Arms or Flag” of Cayman.

If someone wants to use those images for promotional purposes, the annual fee is $250; for profit, the fee is $500. Penalties for noncompliance are $500 for a first offense, or $5,000 for a subsequent offense.

This “reminder” was news to us.

If a set of patriotic Caymanian entrepreneurs wanted to sell, say, coffee mugs featuring hand-painted Cayman flags — they first must submit an application and pay a fee of $500, or risk being penalized hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Pardon us, but what image is more the “property of the people” than the flag? Whose idea was it to pass such a sanction into law? How could this possibly be enforced?

We did a bit of research. The “Coat of Arms, Flag and National Song Law (2005 Revision)” states, “whoever, without the authority of the Governor in Cabinet, uses in connection with a trade, business calling or profession, the Coat of Arms or flag of the Islands … in such a manner as to be calculated to lead to the belief that he is duly authorized to use the Coat of Arms or flag of the Islands is guilty of an offence …”

Huh? Who writes this gibberish? Must every law require a translator or an interpreter?

The law contains two exceptions — when the Coat of Arms or flag appears within a registered trademark, and “where such use is with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election.”

Speaking of flags, bright red ones pop up whenever we see a convoluted piece of legislation that specifically exempts its creators from enforcement.

The original version of this law was passed in 1993. According to the Official Hansard Report for that session of the Legislative Assembly, West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush moved the bill, due to concerns over use of the Coat of Arms by a condo development, the “somewhat shabby treatment” of Cayman’s flag at times, and an insufficient amount of respect for the National Song.

The legislation was unanimously approved by lawmakers, including George Town MLA Kurt Tibbetts.

In the Compass archives, we found only one recent example of Cayman’s government explicitly endorsing the use of our national symbol on a product: the Cayman flag car air-fresheners that were introduced in conjunction with National Heroes Day celebrations in early 2014.

We admit, on the subject of flags, we are not experts. So we talked to someone who is: Graham Bartram, chief vexillologist for the Flag Institute, the U.K.’s national flag charity. (For those interested, “vexillology” means “the study of flags.”)

Mr. Bartram actually designed the version of Cayman’s flag that has flown since 1999, along with those of many other British Overseas Territories. (For the record, the deputy governor’s office attached to its warning statement an image of Cayman’s old flag, which features a smaller coat of arms on a white disc, not its most recent revised one.)

About the Cayman government’s statement, Mr. Bartram said he was “puzzled … confused … not in support of the government’s action.”

He said, “As far as I’m concerned, the national flag of the Cayman Islands is free for use for anyone in the Cayman Islands, or anyone else in the world, for that matter.”

Indeed, in order for a jurisdiction’s flag to be entered into the U.K. Flag Registry, which the Flag Institute maintains and manages — and Cayman’s flag is in the registry — the flag must belong to the public domain, meaning anyone can use it, at any time, for any reason.

Here’s the bottom line: The government cannot use laws to force people to respect the symbols of a country.

Rather, leaders, through their actions, instill respect in the hearts and minds of the people, thus inspiring a reciprocal reverence of the flag, and the country for which it stands.

And that is priceless.



  1. I have a very larger Cayman Flag which I fly proudly in my home. Love it so much that I do not even want to fly it outside fear it may get destroyed from weather.
    On this issue, I stand to support the Government decisions, because I have seen the use, in reverence of our flag has been abused by many, copying it on mugs cups, bottles, clothing and many other things.
    But the big question here is do we feel that it is correct thing to do without permission.
    When we buy flags of other nations, for example, "The USA flag", "The Rastafarian Flag" and the list goes on, I am sure somewhere at the beginning of the line permission had to be granted for those flags to be copied and sold.
    My suggestion to the people of Cayman is this, "Be proud of that "Coat of Arms Flag" Fly and wear it with pride. Don’t think about the few dollars to obtain a license to Copy. What will happen is that if we abuse the use, then every cat will fly one on his tail and we will wonder why.

  2. Considering how many MLAs are JPs and/or hold law degrees this display of blatant legal ignorance is rather amusing. It makes you wonder how much more of the legislation they have voted in is also complete nonsense.

  3. I know for a fact you don’t have to get permission to copy or sell the flag of the U.S.A. As far as the Rasta flag?? Are you kidding, who you gonna get permission from? Bob Marley?

    Flags are symbols of the people and the nation they represent. There shouldn’t be a fee and/or penalty to represent your nation.

  4. From an outsiders point of view. I do agree that there should be some costs associated with consumer uses of the flag, such as selling products with images of the flag on them or copies of the flag itself. As far as personal uses go, my position would be that the flag is the property of the Cayman Islands people and is flown as a show of pride, love and respect for the country. There should no costs associated with showing respect, pride and love for Cayman it should be encouraged, so yes I believe that private parties whether they be Caymanians, Expats or just visitors to Cayman should be able to proudly fly it and display it without being penalized or charged.

  5. So what about business outside this country that fly the flag, is the gov’t actively stopping them? American Airlines, Carnival Cruise Lines, and others use the flag.

    This is lunacy! A country is not a company. Unless the country files for copyright protection in every jurisdiction in the world, it has given up its rights for compensation.

    If our MLAs don’t understand the basics, then what are they going to do when something complicated comes along…..oh yea, nothing!

  6. I think there is a little misunderstanding here.

    I think the law is talking about commercial use of the flag.
    Say on T shirts, coffee mugs etc.

    I don’t think there is any ban on or payment required for public display of our flag.

  7. Good Point Norman and J Bodden, Maybe the Compass can provide some clarity. I need to know if I have to scrape that Cayman Flag off my Car Window back in New Jersey or weather or not I can use one for decoration at my next cookout..


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