This investigative essay discusses in depth Alcoholics
Anonymous World Services’ legal and corporate actions
over the years involving copyrights of the book Alcoholics
Anonymous and other matters; removal of AA
literature items from eBay auctions; lawsuits by A.A.W.S.
to “protect” A.A.’s identity and intellectual
property and its copyrights and trademarks; the German
and Mexican Big Book® lawsuits against A.A. members;
the medallions lawsuit and subsequent dropping of the
circle and triangle symbol by A.A.; the publications
of the facsimile 1939 first edition Big Book® and the
first edition paperback by non-A.A.-Approved
sources; the history of AA incorporation(s);
the role of the A.A. General Service Conference,
A.A.W.S. and other AA corporate service
entities in all these matters; and, most importantly,
the spirituality of the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions and
12 Concepts (Warranties) in these controversies.
The reader is advised to have some research books at
hand: Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference
of Alcoholics Anonymous 1951-2004.
A.A.W.S., 1978-2004 151pp; and The A.A.
Service Manual - combined with – Twelve Concepts
for World Service by Bill W. A.A.W.S.,
1962-2002 Revised edition, pp S113 and 75pp.; and, of
course, the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book®,
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age.)
Access to a computer and the Internet is necessary as
much of this information is only available through web
The reader is further advised of the necessity of open-mindedness,
patience, and wisdom for the topics here are tricky.
Most importantly, spirituality should rule in the Steps,
Traditions and Concepts.
Put on your spiritual seatbelt, turn
page, and begin…
The history of corporate AA’s legal actions is
lengthy. One is amazed that the Fellowship-at-large
knows little or nothing about this. And
the General Service Conference of A.A. (GSC)
seems powerless to put these lawsuits and legal actions
on the its agenda for open discussion with the entire
Fellowship and corrective action.
Before discussing the legal mess currently at A.A.W.S.
and other A.A. corporations it is necessary to
The Legal History of A.A.
Here is an edited General Service Office (GSO) summary
of “The Evolution of the AA Service Structure,”
a legal history if you will. I added the underlining.
1935 = Bill W. and Dr. Bob meet. AA begins.
1938 = The Alcoholic Foundation formed, an unincorporated
body of six to 8 individuals whose assumed purpose is
to help AA, principally its finances, or more accurately,
lack of finances.
1938 = Works Publishing Company, financed by Charles
Towns and John Rockefeller, is formed by Bill W. and
Hank P., an unincorporated body to own and publish
Alcoholics Anonymous, the book Bill W. and others
are writing. It sells shares to various buyers.
Later the shares were sold to The Alcoholic
Foundation, some for cash, others for notes and Bill’s
for future royalties and the assumption of Bill’s debts.
When the book was complete, it was registered with the
copyright office as the personal property of William
G. Wilson dba Works Publishing.
1940 = Works Publishing, Inc. is incorporated as a business
corporation under the Stock Corporation Law of the State
of New York by The Alcoholic Foundation.
It purchases the assets and and liabilities of William
G. Wilson dba Works Publishing and Works Publishing
1943 = The Alcoholic Foundation, Inc., is incorporated
as a non-profit corporation under the Membership Corporation
Law of the State of New York. It replaces the
unincorporated body known as The Alcoholic Foundation.
1944 = The Alcoholic Foundation makes the final
payments to Charles Towns and Rockefeller for their
interests in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
1946 = The Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine, Inc.,
is incorporated as a business corporation under the
Stock Corporation Law of the State of New York.
Its primary purpose is to publish a monthly magazine
for distribution principally to AA members and is wholly
owned by The Alcoholic Foundation. It is
also permitted to pursue any other legal enterprises.
1950 = The A.A. General Service Conference is
formed on a trial basis by The Alcoholic Foundation.
It is an unincorporated body composed of selected
delegates, corporate trustees, and directors and staff
members. It started meeting annually in 1951.
1953 = Works Publishing, Inc., is renamed A.A.W.S.
1954 = The Alcoholic Foundation, Inc. is renamed
the General Service Board (GSB) of Alcoholics Anonymous,
1955 = The General Service Conference of A.A.
and its Charter are adopted by acclamation at the International
Conference of A.A. in St. Louis. The Conference
is an unincorporated service body, not a government
of A.A. The Charter is a voluntary compact.
(note: not incorporated/organized. It is not a
grant from a state or other legal jurisdiction.
1962 = Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
is incorporated as a non-profit corporation under the
Membership Corporation Law of the State of New York.
It takes over the assets and functions of the stock
corporation then known as A.A.W.S. Incorporated,
which is subsequently dissolved.
1969 = The World Service Meeting (WSM) is formed and
starts meeting every two years. It is an unincorporated
association of AAWS franchised
service structures of A.A. in various countries.
The service structure of A.A. in the U.S. and
Canada becomes a member of the WSM as do service structures
of A.A. in other countries.
1971 = Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine, Inc. is
incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation under the
Not-For-Profit Law of the State of New York. It
takes over the assets and functions of The Alcoholics
Anonymous Grapevine, Inc., the stock corporation then
known as A.A. Grapevine, Inc., which is subsequently
As far as it goes, the summary is true. Explanations
for all the corporate changes are lacking. And
as a legal history of A.A., it is lacking any
documentation or discussion of all the legal actions
AAWS and GSO, etc., have taken to sue AA members
in recent years. It also lacks the significant
change in the Charter’s Article two in 1987, which states:
“In countries where a General Service structure exists,
the U.S./Canada Conference will delegate sole right
to publish our Conference-approved literature to the
General Service Board of the structure (these are
FRANCHISE Agreements).” This change effectively
voided the previous Article wording: “But no Conference
Section shall ever be placed in authority over another.”
The reason given for the change involved a problem with
two different groups in Australia. One AA member
informed that the change was “ramroded” through.(4)
It was reaffirmed with minor language clarifications
by the 1988 GSC. None of the AAWS lawsuits
against AA members in Germany or Mexico have ever been
approved by GSConferences. AAWS, GSO General
Managers, Trustees, etc initiated the lawsuits.
Before discussing those lawsuits, let us look farther
inside A.A. history for some non-legal, spiritual precedents. A.A.
shares its experience (history), strength and
hope and the Fellowship has a rich history of “mistakes
corrected,” as Bill W. said.
The 2nd GSConference tackled the problem
again and decided to incorporate through an Act of Congress
until Bill W. and others expressed doubts as to whether
A.A. “as a faith and way of life” really belonged in
the field of incorporation. After that, the original
motion for incorporation was tabled unanimously.
At the 3rd GSConference a special committee
report recommended that A.A. not incorporate.
That resolution was passed unanimously.
“The collective conscience of A.A.” acted before the
12 Concepts existed!
Reading the following report one is impressed with the
wording of the nine points:
(CONFERENCE ADVISORY ACTIONS 1953 pg 32)
REPORT of the COMMITTEE on
CONGRESSIONAL INCORPORATION of AA
We have reviewed all of the arguments pro and con on
this subject, have discussed it with many members of
AA within the Conference and outside of it and have
come to these conclusions:
1. The evils which caused the question to arise have
2. It would create by law a power to govern which would
be contrary to, and violative of, our Traditions.
3. It would implement the spiritual force of AA with
a legal power, which we believe would tend to weaken
its spiritual strength.
4. When we ask for legal rights, enforceable in Courts
of Law, we by
the same act subject ourselves to possible legal regulation.
5. We might well become endlessly entangled in litigation
which, together with the incident expense and publicity,
could seriously threaten our very existence.
6. Incorporation could conceivably become the opening
wedge that might
engender politics and a struggle for power within our
7. Continuously since its beginning and today, AA has
been a fellowship and not an organization. Incorporation
necessarily makes it an organization.
8. We believe that "spiritual faith" and a
"way of life" cannot be incorporated.
9. AA can and will survive so long as it remains a spiritual
a way of life to all men and women who suffer from alcoholism.
Therefore, keeping in mind, the high purpose of the
General Service Conference as expressed by the Chairman
last year when he said, "We seek not compromise
but certainty", your Committee unanimously recommends
that Alcoholics Anonymous does not incorporate.
Those 9 points above are a wonderful spiritual precedent.
They stand in stark contrast to the current New York
office service corporations and their legal actions.
Spirituality can not be incorporated in A.A.
The principle was established. In 1953, the GSConference
recommended “Alcoholics Anonymous not incorporate.”
(ADGSC, p. 145) From 1938 to 1986, various
legal changes involving The Alcoholic Foundation,
Works Publishing, Inc., The Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine,
the General Service Conference, A.A.W.S., the
General Service Board, and the World Service Meeting
have been approved.
It is important to remember the General Service Conference
of A.A. is unincorporated, a service body
and not a government for A.A. The Charter is a
voluntary compact and also unincorporated.
It is not a grant from a state or other jurisdiction.
Nor is it a legal contract document. The World
Service Meeting also is unincorporated.
The following are all CORPORATIONS: Alcoholics Anonymous
World Services, Inc.; the General Service Board of Alcoholics
Anonymous, Inc.; and the Alcoholics Anonymous
Grapevine, Inc. They are NOT Alcoholics
Anonymous. They are service organizations and
corporations whose purpose and existence is to serve
the Fellowship. In effect, they are temporary,
albeit long-lived, committees that could all be thrown
away and Alcoholics Anonymous would still exist.
A.A. groups are independent from the NY AA Corporations
as it states in their by-laws for incorporation: they
were ostensibly organized to serve the autonomous groups
that make up the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. Autonomous
means 'self-governing' and 'independent from the whole.'
The lawsuits (discussed below) clearly demonstrate that
the Corporations using the AA name are rejecting the
autonomy of the groups and in violation of their own
by-laws. It is as impossible to have group autonomy
with a central authority that has the power of punishment,
as it is to have a government of totalitarian anarchy.
These are two dialectically opposed systems in which
one cancels out the other and cannot coexist simultaneously
under the same roof.
is A.A.? It is one alcoholic talking to
another alcoholic. That is its essence.
“Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women
who share their experience, strength and hope with each
other that they may solve their common problem and help
others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement
for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There
are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting
through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied
with any sect, denomination, politics, organization,
or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy;
A.A. is not legally organized. It is not a batch
of corporations. It is two alcoholics talking
to each other.
This essay will focus on spiritual principles rather
than legal principles. While legal questions abound
on the copyright of the first 1939 edition Alcoholics
Anonymous and royalties from it, on who really owns
the Big Book®, on whether or not the Big Book and other
A.A. literature are property (which A.A. is prohibited
from owning!), on a legal definition of what is A.A.
literature…indeed, a host of questions involving A.A.’s
early history and current policy of extreme legalism
…these questions will be approached spiritually rather
Another author, an excellent researcher and A.A. historian,
has been working on a book on all these matters that
will expose many of the early A.A. “fairy
tales” involving our history. It undoubtedly
will address many of these legal issues. We look
forward to that volume. Here we shall depend on
A.A.’s Twelve Steps, Traditions, Concepts and
the Fellowship itself.
Since many of these lawsuits and other legal actions
depend on an assumption that A.A. “owns” intellectual
property (literature) from which it receives many millions
of dollars, the question lingers: If A.A.
is prohibited from owning property, how can A.A.W.S.
claim ownership and trusteeship of this intellectual
property with its multi-million dollar income annually
in violation of A.A.’s Traditions?
What is A.A. Literature?
All of the corporate lawsuits and other harassing legal
actions by A.A. trusted servants in New York
have focused on protecting and defending the A.A.
name and its A.A.-approved literature against
perceived threats. Those lawsuits and other legal
actions on the internet, eBay auctions, in Mexico and
Germany and reactions to the publication of the first
edition 1939 facsimile of the Big Book and the first
paperback reprint of the original Big Book all involved
A.A. literature and the Alcoholics Anonymous
name itself. The legalists in New York have a
very narrow definition of A.A. literature.
If it isn’t “A.A. Conference Approved Literature”
then it isn’t A.A. literature. If A.A.W.S.
or the A.A. Grapevine doesn’t publish it, then
it isn’t legally A.A. literature.
By that legal measure, many thousands of books, articles,
pamphlets, tapes, videos, early original letters, etc.
are not A.A. literature! Twenty-Four
Hours a Day was the second largest best seller (behind
the Big Book) to A.A. members from many years.
Biographies of Sr. Ignatia, Ebby T., Clarence S., Sen.
Hughes, Bill W., Dr. Silkworth, and others were never
A.A. General Service Conference Approved and
therefore, the legalists would say, are not A.A.
literature. Many histories, from Ernest Kurtz’s
NOT-GOD: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous onward,
are not legally A.A. literature. We could
fill the next fifty pages with hundreds of examples.
We note that the A.A. Archives in New York City
are bulging with these “illegal” works of A.A.
Many think the Legalism Movement in A.A. began
in 1985 when Jon S. of Akron published a facsimile copy
of the first 1939 edition of the book Alcoholics
Anonymous. He had discovered the copyright
to the first edition Big Book had expired and was now
in the public domain (The original text of the
First Edition lapsed into public domain in 1967 and
the Second Edition in 1983. A.A.W.S. failed
to renew the 1939 copyright.) Like
Shakespeare’s plays and the Bible, anyone could reprint
the 1939 A.A. Big Book and not pay royalties.
The reaction from A.A. members was mixed: some
approved and thought it a worthwhile project; others
thought the man was guilty of genocide or the worst
serial killer in history. Jon was called a communist;
he received many phone death threats! His reputation
was slandered. He was harassed. He was a
good man. He did nothing illegal under criminal
or civil law. He did nothing that violated any
of A.A. Steps or Traditions.
I bought ten or twenty copies from him. It was
a great idea, especially celebrating the 50th
anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous’ founding in 1935.
Caused quite a stir at GSO in New York though.
In 1977, years earlier, the General Service Conference
recommended that “publication of a facsimile of the
first edition of the Big Book should NOT be undertaken
as it would destroy the sentimental value of the actual
first edition (Floor Action)(1).” I don’t know
anyone who’s complaining about the destruction of the
sentimental value of actual BB first editions.
I know thousands of A.A.s who are very grateful
he published the facsimile. Many thousands of
copies were bought and continue to sell briskly in further
Was the loss of the copyright for the first edition
1939 Big Book a spiritual coincidence? A.A.
had lost its first intellectual property, its basic
text, its Bible if you will. What horrible catastrophe
has been visited on the Fellowship because of that?
None. Of course, the field here is open to lots
of interpretation. Maybe someone at GSO called
in sick with the “flu” the day the copyright renewal
papers were to be processed. A sense of humor,
please! Nothing bad happened. It’s part
of A.A.’s legal history that’s not written up
in any “official A.A. history.”
The 1939 facsimile BB published by Carry The Message
sold thousands of copies. Anonymous Press in recent
years acquired it and continues to sell thousands of
copies. In 1985 this must certainly have shaken
up A.A.W.S. After all, they were selling many
thousands of copies of the Big Book and here was the
first real threat to their chief literature moneymaker.
They certainly reviewed their copyrights program and
soon employed a law firm specializing in that area.
The Paperback AA Big Book
In 1992, Intergroup World Service (IWS) (not affiliated
with AAWS or any other A.A. corporation)
reprinted the first 1939 edition first printing of the
AA Big Book in paperback. They sold it for peanuts…
$2.50. In quantities of 100 copies it could be
bought for 85 cents. For 500 or more copies: 55
cents each. The book included the forwards, Dr.’s
Opinion, the first 164 pages and Dr. Bob’s story.
They sold thousands. I remember A.A. groups buying
25, 50, 100
copies and giving them away. Obviously, it was
needed. In the first year IWS gave away about
2,000 free and sold the remainder of the initial printing
of 4,500. IWS cost per book including printing,
paper, cover material and shipping was 45 cents.
The legalists in A.A. reacted very quickly to
this real threat to A.A.’s big moneymaker, the
Big Book®. In 1993, the Literature Committee
of the General Service Conference recommended, “A.A.W.S.
produce a pocket-sized (read: paperback) version of
the Big Book with all front matter (preface and various
forewords, Doctor’s Opinion), basic text, Dr. Bob’s
Story and Appendixes.” In 1958, in a Floor Action,
the GSC recommended, “a paperback edition of the ‘Big
Book’ not be published.” In 1987, that G.S.C.
committee advised “Although there is some desire to
publish the first 181 pages of the Big Book, Alcoholics
Anonymous, in soft-cover (read paperback), there
is not sufficient need at this time.” In 1976,
the Literature Committee and the G.S.C. in Floor Action
recommended “We keep the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous,
as it is at this time and not publish a paperback edition.”
The above recommendations are quoted from Advisory
Actions of the General Service Conference of Alcoholics
Anonymous 1951-2004. So for about 35 years,
AAWS and the GSC ignored or defeated any request
to reprint the Big Book in paperback. One major
reason often quoted was that it would “cheapen” the
Big Book. It certainly did “cheapen” the Big Book
when thousands of A.A. members could buy it for $2.50
or much less in quantities (55cents including shipping)
Less than a year after the IWS paperback reprint, AAWS
rushed into print with its own “cheap” Big Book paperback.
Why? Money. AAWS’s first printing
run of the now A.A.-Approved Big Book paperback
was 100,000 copies. They used the same printing
company as IWS: Rose Printing of Tallahassee, Florida.
AAWS provided the paper and cover material and
the completed AAWS book had 16 fewer pages than
the IWS paperback. Cost to AAWS was .67
cents per book. The AAWS paperback was
printed at the identical plant, on the identical presses,
bound in the same bindery, by the same workers.
Two months after the IWS paperback reprint, IWS met
with concerned AAWS officials and began receiving
harassing legal letters from AAWS. AAWS
accused IWS of “unfair competition” (the low price of
the book?) AAWS continues to print the
BB paperback for $5.60 each. Finally, in 1995,
IWS and AAWS met and worked out a settlement.
In a telephone interview with John G. of IWS, he detailed
the main points of the settlement:
1) AAWS would apologize
to every A.A. group in the world for its legal
harassment of IWS, Inc. That AAWS apology
was published in Box 4-5-9 and in the 1995 Final Report
of the General Service Conference.
2) IWS would stop printing
3) IWS would stop selling
its paperback in Canada.
would submit all future reprints before printing to
AAWS for review. Shortly thereafter, IWS
dissolved. A new group, Anonymous Press, has taken
over printing and sales of the former IWS paperback
BB, as well as the facsimile of the original 1939 BB
in hardback and soft back. (see
In the late 1980s, another thorny legal problem emerged
concerning the circle and triangle symbol used
at that time to identify A.A.-Approved Literature.
“AAWS decided to withdraw all permission to use
the AA logo that had been freely granted up to that
time. Its use had been mainly by jewelry and trinket
manufacturers for making and marketing their products
to A.A. members (2).” About 170 permits were granted
by that time. “AAWS notified them all about
the withdrawal of permission and asked them to discontinue
any current or future use of that symbol. All
but two agreed:
After further negotiations with the two who refused
failed, it was decided by AAWS to bring suit
against the offenders. The General Service Conference
was never consulted, although there was no emergency
of any kind existing that made immediate action necessary.
It was after some $180,000 spent on legal fees, and
it became apparent that AAWS was going to lose
the lawsuit, AAWS agreed with the defendants
in this case to allow the circle and triangle to enter
the public domain.
After this fiasco, AAWS decided to no longer
use the circle and triangle as an official logo on any
AA literature. However, they did state
that A.A. members could continue to use this
logo if they so desired. This action was (also)
taken without consulting the (GS) Conference.
This is what I know about this matter. The rest
is all history, except the Trustees have repeatedly
thwarted any attempts to put this issue on the Conference
agenda to be discussed by the entire Fellowship.
Such discussions that have taken place, have been in
a time and place that the Trustees could control the
One source pointed out that the lawsuit was dropped
when the defendants sought “the right of disclosure”
which could have led to A.A. members and A.A.
trusted servants having to break their own anonymity
and that of others in a public court of law.
Having lost the lawsuit, what “amends” were made to
In 1994, the General Service Board of A.A. formed
an ad hoc committee to discuss the policy on protection
of trademarks and copyrights. “The committee was
unable to achieve agreement on the issue of litigation,
but recognizes that we are a spiritual Fellowship with
some business and as a matter of policy our Steps, Traditions
and Concepts should direct the nature of that business.”
The committee recommended:
That A.A.W.S. follow the policy of identifying
trademarks and copyrights as guidelines until the 1996
Conference allowing time for the Fellowship to consider
the concerns surrounding this issue. And, this
policy be reviewed by the 1996 Conference.
That information and questions about these issues be
furnished to the Fellowship at large and input be sought
from the group level. Regional Forum workshops
and Delegate presentations within their area could be
possible avenues for dissemination of this information.
Specific questions should include our society’s responsibility
to A.A.’s intellectual properties, basic message
and the A.A. name itself.
That litigation is a matter for thorough and cautious
consideration and should not be undertaken without consultation
with the General Service Board.”(3) (No consultation
with the General Service Conference?).
Please note that AAWS was not required to submit
matters of possible litigation for review or approval
or disapproval to the General Service Conference.
Consultation with the General Service Board is consultation
with the Trustees who, apparently, are in agreement
with AAWS about lawsuits.
In 1994, the GSC of A.A. recommended “The circle
and triangle logo be discontinued on all Conference-approved
literature” and “The words ‘This is A.A. General
Service Conference-approved Literature’ be displayed
on the front cover of all A.A. Conference-approved
literature wherever possible.” (5)
Remember that AAWS did not ask permission from
the GSC (the Delegates) to file a lawsuit on the circle
and triangle symbol. The GSC has become over the
years a mute rubber stamp approval by inaction for AAWS
legal actions … after the fact. The GSC has never
put the whole issue of lawsuits and other legal actions
on its agenda for discussion and policy action.
The following two major lawsuits are a direct result
of a change in the A.A.
Charter that gave A.A.W.S. the right to delegate
to only one General Service Conference in a foreign
country permission to print A.A. literature.
A.A.W.S.’s legal actions over recent years in initiating
lawsuits and other harassments resulted in a breach
of trust and ten delegates signed a motion to censure
the GSBoard. This was the only major censure
motion in A.A. history! In ACGSCAA,
p. 147, in 1995, a recommendation that “the proposal
to censure the General Service Board (the Trustees)”
was “dismissed (by the Trustees).” For a full
discussion of this censure go to:
Here is the essence of what the ten delegates said:
“Alcoholics Anonymous, either directly or indirectly,
has found itself engaged in activities formerly considered
well outside the realm of our spiritual path. Our service
boards have begun to engage in struggles over power
and property and have provided the opportunity for a
small minority to seek prestige.”
German Big Book Lawsuit
(An A.A. Trusted Servant wrote the following summary.
For more information go to: www.heise.nu/AALawsuit.)
In the 1970s, the official German edition of the Big
Book of Alcoholics Anonymous had a number of
translation flaws. The most serious problem was
that nearly all appearances of the word “spiritual”
had been translated as “mental” or “psychological.”
(the word “spiritual” occurs in the Multilith manuscript
of the Big Book 108 times and 106 times in the third
edition. The German GSO translation of 1983 contains
the word “spiritual” only 8 times.) (Later research
has showed that this translation issue was misunderstood,
secondary and resolved. The translation issue
was not the real problem.) See also postings at:
The official German translation was priced nearly five
times higher than the cost to produce it, compromising
its ability to carry the A.A. spiritual message.
Hundreds of A.A. members in Germany felt these
wrongs with the official German translation should be
corrected and began working with the German General
Service Conference (GGSC) in the 1980s to effect change.
The GGSC was unwilling to correct the text or lower
the price. In 1995, concerned AA members formed
an AA Big Book Study Group (AABBSG) and offered three
translations of the first chapter of the basic text
to the GermanGSC and GermanGSO at no cost. The
GGSO refused and returned them to the AABBSG.
At this point the AABBSG printed and mailed about 10,000
copies to the groups and called for a group conscience.
In early 1996 the AABBSG registered with the European
GSO. During a visit with the Gen. Mgr. of the
GGSO in Feb. 1996, the AABBSG learned the GGSO had no
objection to distribution of the free corrected Big
Books. By this time the AABBSG had prepared their
own translation of the basic text from the original
Multilith text (which had no copyright) and had paid
a professional book manufacturer to print 10,000 copies.
They gave them away free during the German convention
and mailed them free. A second printing
was soon needed and big book studies sprang up all over
In summer 1996, AABBSG began translating and giving
away two pamphlets because they were badly needed for
12th Step work. In August 1996 Gen.
Mgr. George D. of AAWS, Inc., went to Munich
and arranged a license agreement for the Big Book and
these two pamphlets. These agreements were kept
secret and unknown to the Fellowship until Dec. 10,
1997. Under the agreement, the German GSO was
authorized (and required) to take legal action against
AABBSG. Gen. Mgr. George D. of AAWS urged
GGSO Gen. Mgr. Hans P. to sue, or else risk being sued
himself (by the executors of the Wilson estate, Michael
Alexander and Owen Flanagan?) (or by AAWS?).
In 1997, a criminal investigation of the AABBSG was
conducted by local police. Although it was unsuccessful,
some members of the AABBSG (afraid of further consequences)
signed agreements with AAeV (the German GSO)
never again give away a Big Book, or else pay $6,000.
fine for each one to the German GSO. A few AABBSG
members refused to sign and continued to give away copies
of the original Multilith text.
At this point, the German GSO singled out one individual
(Matthew, the book manufacturer) and added civil lawsuits
to the ongoing criminal prosecution. The AABBSG
responded by printing copies of the first edition of
the Big Book, for which the U.S. copyright had lapsed
and was thought to have been forfeited by unrestricted
publication of the Multilith draft without copyright
notice. These were printed in languages other
At AAWS, Inc.’s request, the German GSO sued
Matthew and another individual for the foreign language
editions, requesting up to $250,000. in fines for each
language. When the German GSO lost this lawsuit,
AAWS, Inc. itself brought suit for about $200,000.
directly against Matthew for the free distribution of
the foreign language editions of the first edition Big
Book by AABBSG, as well as purchasing a few Big Books
in the U.S. and reselling them in Germany.
Although many A.A. members in more than one location
carried out the printing, AAWS, Inc. brought
suit against one A.A. individual. More ominously,
the actions of AAWS, Inc. have been diametrically
opposed to A.A.’s principles --- most notably Step 12,
Tradition 5, and Concept XII, Warranty Five. In
their zeal to win the lawsuit, AAWS, Inc. testified
to the German court that they were in no way bound by
A.A. Traditions, and indicated that the corporation
bylaws of both AAWS, Inc. and the German GSO
do not prohibit bringing lawsuits, in the expectation
that the corporations sometimes must bring lawsuits
in order to protect their assets.
AAWS Inc. has also stated that they will continue
to sue Matthew (and others) by all means possible.
Although the German Delegates and Committees were asked
to consider the topic and voted UNANIMOUSLY in 2002
that the AAeV/German GSO is bound to adhere to
the AA Steps, Traditions and Concepts, their
President wrote a letter to the court that the German
GSC had approved the lawsuits (did they?) and he had
no choice but to continue with litigation.
By October 2003 Matthew had exhausted all his funds
and became unable to pay for any further legal defense.
The legal costs and probable punitive damages resulting
from the AAWS, Inc. lawsuits will probably send
him into bankruptcy, and possibly jail.
Since April 2003 Matthew has been making regular payments
on the judgment to AAWS and AAeV.
Apparently, this payment plan has become unacceptable,
most likely because Matthew has not been willing to
agree to other conditions requested by AA Inc….
specifically to: 1) reveal full names (break the anonymity)
of others involved in these 12th Step efforts;
and 2) agree to never hand out another piece of A.A.
literature---regardless of who published it.
Without Matthew’s acceptance of these conditions, AAWS
and AAeV have been unwilling to agree to any
payment schedule, and have insisted he must pay all
fines, penalties, interest and principal of the judgment
by July 20 or he will experience “Zwangsvollstreckung”
(“further law enforcement punishment).
Almost no financial support has come from fellow AA
members. Matthew has personally borrowed funds
equivalent to $50,000. (US Dollars) in order to fully
meet AA Inc. attorney’s demands – that they will
receive the money on
July 20. This is the remainder (unpaid portion)
of the initially demanded payments that are now required
to be paid in full. Although AAWS financial
demands will be met as required, the AAWS attorney
Roth has informed Matthew in a recent letter that AAWS
will now proceed with litigation and prosecution for
“Schadensersatz” (punitive damages) which will likely
result in considerably greater financial debts for Matthew.
As of December, 2004, Matthew has paid AA Inc.
about 40,000 Euro (about $53,208. US Dollars) out of
his own pocket. One unseen document, a 2004 financial
report from the German GSO lists a gain of about 20,000
Euro from “other sources.”
Looking over this mess in Germany, one A.A. member said
that March 26, 1998, when the trial began against Matthew,
was “the saddest day in A.A. history.” “The German
AAeV (GSO) wants to take all of the (A.A.)
literature owned by this individual A.A. member and
the Group he belongs to and destroy it. This writer
wonders if the German General Service Office remembers
in the world’s not too distant past, the practice of
book burning once so prevalent in Germany?” he said.
What did it cost A.A.W.S. to do all this?
Legal fees and related expenses over the seven year
period, 1998-2004, totaled $227,707., according to the
April, 2004, report of Elaine McDowell, Ph.D., Chair
of the A.A. General Service Board. (That
report is available from GSO). And it cost Matthew
many thousands of dollars.
Was the message of the Big Book in any way “diluted,”
or changed, or harmed by Matthew’s efforts? NO.
Did Matthew and his friends try to “carry the message”?
YES. Did A.A.W.S. start this whole batch
of lawsuits? YES.
The Mexican Big Book
I have listed several links to web sites that provide
extensive information on the history of the Mexican lawsuit
involving AAWS, Inc.:
go to: http://www.aagso.org/
scroll down to:
AAWS License Agreement
with Central Mexicana
Then at the top of that page, click here.
Then at the top of that page click,
There are 62 different listings here, a wealth of information.
Please note listings # 60 and 61 among many important
In 1986, a section of AA groups broke off from the Central
Mexico Service Structure to form their own group, called
Section Mexicana composed of over 2,000 groups with
some 20,000 to 28,000 members in 19 areas.
In 1987, the General Service Conference (USA/Canada)
modified Article II of our Conference Charter to authorize
the USA/Canada Conference to DELEGATE the sole right
of literature publishing to the General Service Board
of each country. This change replaced the former
autonomy of foreign structures with a form of government
where one conference
authority over another conference. (Compare the Original
Charter, Article II with the Current Conference Charter,
Article II of The AA Service Manual)
In October 1990, in a signed AAWS License Agreement
(read: franchise agreement), AAWS Inc. authorized
the Central Mexico group to be the sole publisher of
A.A. literature in Mexico. Sect. 2 showed
that AAWS “may use the licensed trademarks for
itself or through written sub-licenses granted to the
service centers and traditional AA groups.” So
it was and is possible and legal for AAWS to
grant permission to publish A.A.-Approved Literature
to more than one AA group in a country.
In July 1994, Central Mexico sued the Section Mexicana
for publishing A.A. literature. AAWS has
claimed it was not a party to the Central Mexicana lawsuit
but this is not true: Consider the following
quote from AAWS General Manager George D. concerning
the foreign licensing/franchise agreements: "Our
licensing agreements have also included a REQUIREMENT
that the necessary actions to protect the copyrights
which were licensed." Central Mexico
had to sue, according to AAWS's licensing/franchise
agreement, or else risk a lawsuit against itself by
In July 1994, Mexican law officials entered the offices
of Section Mexicana and impounded two truckloads of
AA Big Books, pamphlets and other AA literature.
Section Mexicana spent some $300,000. (US Dollars) defending
itself. One Section Mexicana trusted servant,
Javier G., was convicted in criminal court of violating
copyright laws and sentenced to one year in prison.
AAWS was a legal party to that criminal proceeding.
There were public news reports of the raid on
At their national convention at Nezahualcoyotl City,
June 7, 1997, after many failed attempts to communicate
with AAWS and Central Mexico GSC to resolve the
dispute, Section Mexicana adopted the following “Declaration
of Mexico” (I have condensed and underlined certain
Section Mexico adopts the original conference charter
offered by Bill W. and unanimously acclaimed in 1955
by the A.A. collective conscience. The General
Service Conference shall be a service body only; never
a government for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Our World Services should always conform to the Composition
Concept outlined in Article Two of the original Conference
We suggest that the collective world conscience speak
out their disapproval of the updating made in 1987 to
Article Two of the Conference Charter, for this action
has whereupon nullified the group-autonomy concept among
the different sections of the conference, and has, consequently,
placed one conference in a position of unqualified authority
over any of the others.
In all its proceedings, the World Service Conference
shall observe the Spirit of A.A. Traditions,
taking great care that the conference never becomes
the seat of perilous wealth and power…
None of the World Service Conference members shall ever
be placed in a position of unqualified authority over
any of the others; that all important decisions be reached
by discussion, vote, and whenever possible, by substantial
No World Service Conference action shall ever be personally
punitive or an incitement to public controversy.
The World Service Conference…shall never perform any
acts of government; and that, like the Society of A.A.
which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain
democratic in thought and action.
The spiritual force of A.A. has proved, as our own painful
experience has taught the A.A. World Fellowship, to
be stronger than any legal power. Accordingly,
this First A.A. World Service Meeting solemnly declares
that in A.A. there should not be any litigation,
…that the A.A. Literature shall not be considered
a source of income.
…and that A.A. should remain being its own publisher
and editor so that A.A. literature keeps its spiritual
Section Mexico’s General Service Conference after eleven
years of serving its Fellowship, has the deepest conviction
that the Conference Plan is a Warrantee that our movement-wide
service would continue to function under all conditions,
This first A.A. World Service Meeting calls the world
group conscience to (return) to the A.A. principles,
the only way to keep our blessed fellowship united for
ourselves and future generations…
Our long journey from the devasting prosecution
we were subjected to, to today’s blessings, and a promising
future, are rich experiences that we would like to share
with our A.A. Fellows from abroad. We also
propose you to make all necessary arrangements so as
to celebrate our next A.A. International Meeting in
the year 2001.”
The A.A.W.S. = eBay
World Services, over the past two years, has removed
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books and other items
for sale on eBay auctions because A.A.W.S. says
the listings offer “counterfeit or unauthorized items
that violate a trademark,” namely the name “Alcoholics
And many Fellowship members, AA archivists, collectors,
buyers and sellers, and booksellers of Alcoholics Anonymous
historical literature are upset and describe A.A.W.S.’s
actions as “punitive.” They further say A.A.W.S.
is violating several of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions
and Concepts. And…that A.A.W.S.’s actions,
while legal, have taken the Fellowship into the public
arena where lawsuits, punitive actions and public controversy
What A.A.W.S. has done with these legal actions
is attack the very heart of A.A., its history.
Many hundreds, probably thousands, of A.A. members,
archivists and collectors as well as scholars searched
and found and bought thousands of books, articles, and
other material by and about A.A. They all love
A.A. history and these eBay auctions were one
of their primary sources for finding it. Yes,
trinkets were sold on the site. Everyone knows
a lighter or a candle with a picture of Dr. Bob is not
A.A.-Approved. If someone advertised a
Sr. Ignatia Sacred Heart medal from St. Thomas Hospital,
what great harm is done? Everyone knows it’s not
As an Antiquarian Bookseller-Appraiser specializing
in the literature of Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous
for the past 30 years full time, I recently had several
“Alcoholics Anonymous” literature items removed
from my eBay auctions for the first time in my career.
Over the past two years, I have received emails from
others complaining about their advertised “AA” items
for sale on eBay auctions also being removed.
One gentleman had 50 items removed.
A current GSO research report I requested revealed that
from December, 2002, to September, 2005, a total of
735 items advertised as “Alcoholics Anonymous” auctions
have been removed by AAWS under the eBay VeRO
program. There were many hundreds, probably thousands
that could have been removed but were not…which amounts
to selective punishment.
Here is the eBay email others and I have received:
Dear Charles Bishop,
**PLEASE READ THIS IMPORTANT EMAIL REGARDING YOUR LISTING
We would like to let you know that we removed your listings:
4573581620 Alcoholics Anonymous: Washingtonians!
4573583256 Alcoholics Anonymous: Road Back history
because an intellectual property rights owner notified
us, under penalty of perjury, that your listing offers
a counterfeit or unauthorized item that violates a trademark.
We have credited any associated fees to your account.
We have also notified the bidders that the listing was
removed, and that they are not obligated to complete
If you relist this or any other similar items on eBay,
your account likely will be suspended.
If you believe your listing was ended in error, or have
questions regarding the removal of this listing, please
contact the intellectual property rights owner directly
at: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
that email address affiliation with eBay?)
is available to answer questions, but since it is the
intellectual property rights owner that requested the
removal of your listings, we encourage you to contact
For more information on the VeRO Program, and a list
of rights owner About Me pages, please visit:
Thank you for your cooperation. Regards,
Customer Support (Trust and Safety Department), eBay
Inc.” (END eBay email)
The VeRO program is explained in the two websites above.
Just click either and the two eBay links will provided
you with complete information.
Basically, since “eBay is generally unable to determine
whether a particular item on eBay is authorized or not,
eBay has reached out to intellectual property rights
owners for their help. eBay established the VeRO
Program in 1997 to enable intellectual property rights
owners to easily report and request removal of listings
offering items or containing materials that infringe
The words “Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A.,” are federally
registered trademarks owned by A.A.W.S.
They are intellectual property of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In a letter from the law firm representing AAWS to a
person who objected to having her eBay auction listing
removed, it stated “We represent A.A.W.S. with
respect to trademark and copyright matters. We
requested that your particular listing be removed because
of the use of either, or both, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
or AA in the title of the item. We requested
removal because the use of those marks in the title
suggests that AAWS sponsors, approves, etc.,
the item you listed. The item listed is not approved
AAWS material.” Clearly, AAWS removes
the items; not eBay.
My first item removed was: “The Road Back: A Report
on Alcoholics Anonymous by Joseph Kessel.
First American Edition. 1962.
244pp. French journalist explores AA.”
It is not A.A.-Approved literature but the entire
book is about AA and the title includes “Alcoholics
Anonymous.” For many years the easiest search
category for literature by or about AA on eBay
auctions was “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Now the only
items legally permitted in that category by
AAWS are “A.A.-Approved publications.”
If I relist that item under the eBay category “Alcoholics
Anonymous,” I risk having my eBay account suspended.
That’s certainly a punitive action. When AAWS
removed it and 3 other items, I found my description
of the items disappeared entirely from eBay.
So my work was gone. That’s punitive.
I reprinted the The Washingtonian book of 1842
in 1992 and reprinted that
twice more and have sold several hundred copies over
the years to AA archivists and others. Milton
Maxwell, a non-alcoholic A.A. Trustee, who wrote about
the Washingtonians, read the book. Bill W., AA
Co-founder, obviously talked with Maxwell about it and
Bill took to heart the mistakes of the Washingtonians
when he was writing the 12 Traditions. The Washingtonians
were the subject of several AA Grapevine articles.
Legally the book is not A.A.-Approved literature
but it certainly is A.A. literature in the spiritual
and practical realm. Bibliographies of AA include
it and the book by Kessel mentioned above.
The very first Advisory Action from the General Service
Conference (GSC) Literature Committee in 1951 reads,
“In future years, A.A. textbook literature should
have Conference approval (Agenda Committee). Prior
to the vote on this subject, it was pointed out that
the adoption of the suggestion should not preclude the
continued issuance of various printed documents by non-Foundation
sources. No desire to review, edit or censor
non-Foundation material is implied. The objective
is to provide, in the future, a means of distinguishing
Foundation literature from that issued locally or by
non-A.A. interests.” Of course, the question
remains of how binding are “Advisory Actions of the
GSC” on AAWS or GSO or GSBoard? Apparently
not very binding at all.
A.A.W.S.’s action kicking people off eBay “Alcoholics
Anonymous” auctions certainly seems to be “censor of
non-Foundation material.” And GSO servants certainly
“review” non-Foundation material on that website.
AAWS is using a very narrow, legal definition
of what constitutes A.A. literature that excludes
literally hundreds, indeed many thousands, of books
and other works from being advertised in eBay auctions
under the category “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Consider:
the number two best-selling book for AA members for
many, many years was Twenty-Four Hours a Day,
outsold only by the Big Book.
AAWS could remove it from eBay auctions since it
is not A.A.-Approved Literature.
A signed 1941 letter about anonymity from Bill W. on
his AA letterhead would not qualify for sale
on eBay under “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Nor would
Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Nor would the 1941 Saturday Evening Post magazine
article on A.A. that resulted in our membership
jumping from 2,000 to 8,000 in a year or so. Nor
would thousands of other items. In the extreme,
AAWS could remove Alcoholics Anonymous,
the facsimile 1985 reprint of the first edition of the
Big Book, since it is not A.A.-Approved Literature
(and would certainly risk a lawsuit!).
If AAWS-GSO applied that narrow, legal definition
of A.A.-Approved Literature to itself, maybe
the A.A. Archives in New York might have to be
“reviewed, edited, and censored” for all the non-Foundation
and non-A.A.-Approved literature it houses.
(Here comes the book burning!)
After several conversations with the GSO general manager
in New York and the trusted servant who handles copyrights
and trademarks, they informed that AAWS and its
law firm do not usually initiate the eBay removal process.
Most of the time, they say, an AA member calls them
about an item that is not A.A.-Approved Literature
and then AAWS calls eBay and requests removal.
GSO trusted servants suggest sellers list their non-approved
items in other categories, perhaps a category like “12
Step Literature.” In all cases, the market audience
of AA collectors, etc., is drastically reduced in number
and, therefore, usually results in a lower final auction
Some sellers have tried several ways to keep their items
in the “Alcoholics Anonymous” category: a disclaimer
in the description that states the item is not A.A.-Approved
Literature; use of “Not AA”; use of “About AA”;
inserting a word between Alcoholics and Anonymous; etc.
None have been acceptable to AAWS.
And several hundred AA members, collectors, archivists,
historians, sellers and buyers of non-A.A.-Approved
Literature are not too happy about the AAWS’s
legal actions through eBay’s VeRO program. They
have been punished by AAWS’s actions and threatened
with suspension of their eBay accounts. They have
lost time and work and money.
Why didn’t AAWS take a softer approach from the
beginning? They could have sent out an email to
the “offending” party and asked them to respect A.A.’s
intellectual property. They could have asked eBay
to initiate a new category, “12 Step Literature,” and
post a message on the Alcoholics Anonymous category
directing sellers and buyers to that site for non-A.A.-Approved
Literature. They could have accepted sellers’
disclaimer in the description of the item: “This is
NOT A.A.-Approved Literature but the content
is about A.A. history,” etc. Dealers offering
a glow-in-the-dark cigarette lighter with “It Works”
and other trinkets know they are not A.A. approved.
What great harm is done by its sale? AA archivists,
collectors, historians, and other buyers know it’s not
Again AAWS has stepped into the outside world
and imposed itself legally on an outside business.
Doesn’t the preamble say A.A. neither opposes nor endorses
This eBay-AAWS mess is not just speculation.
Here is just one email from an A.A. member who
was banned: “A few years ago I was converting
AA Talks from cassette to CD and listing them
on eBay, using the “Alcoholics Anonymous” name
because they were Alcoholics Anonymous talks.
eBay, at the request of AAWS, banned me.
Several people are doing exactly what I did and eBay
(and AAWS) does nothing about it. The
“crime” I committed is no longer against eBay rules.
eBay refuses to listen to my argument.” How many
others have been banned from eBay by AAWS?
Does A.A.W.S. have the legal right to defend
the A.A. name, identity, and intellectual property in
the public sphere? Defend it against what?
A.A. has been blessed with great press support and cooperation
from the media. It has a gold standard reputation.
The Fellowship/society of A.A., consistent with Traditions
is not organized nor so it is not a “non-profit organization
and, as such has no legal rights, including protection
of its name and no intellectual or tangible property.
A.A.W.S. is a legal corporation under the laws
of the state of New York and the right accorded a corporation.
The real question is how far should A.A. go in
the legal sphere.
Two examples on the thorny problem: first, many
telephone books list Alcoholics Anonymous but some disreputable
treatment centers have listed themselves as “Alcoholics
Anonymous Referral Service” to get patients.
A drunk calls A.A. and gets the treatment center.
Currently A.A.W.S. through its trusted servant
for copyrights and trademarks actively pursues such
false advertising. And 99% of A.A. members
would probably agree those treatment centers should
stop their counterfeit phone listings. However,
some of those phony listings offer an A.A. referral
service and a drunk can be given information on where
AA meetings are in his geographical area. There
is no doubt the treatment center is fishing for new
patients and abusing the A.A. name; we went through
that “institutional profiteering” by the treatment industry
back in the 1980-90s. Remember in the early days
when a national magazine article criticized A.A.
meetings for the sexual “13th step” activities
going on. Bill Wilson laughed and said maybe a
drunk would come for sex and get sober.
The second example: a website called “Alcoholics Anonymous.org”
was not an official A.A. website.
Alcoholics Anonymous filed a claim with the World
Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Arbitration
and Mediation Center against them, but lost the case
because WIPO said the site displayed an adequate warning
“which goes much further than an ordinary disclaimer.”
The WIPO board also noted AA encourages anonymity
and a decentralized structure. (for more information
In 2000 AAWS went to the WIPO Arbitration and
Mediation Center to have “aarecovery.com” transferred
to AAWS. Aarecovery.com is a chat
room that did not sell products. AAWS accused
them of “confusing the relevant purchasing public.”
What AAWS really objected to was the use of “aa”
in their website address. AAWS lost its
case. There are undoubtedly many other examples
pro and con.
When one considers our new universe of the World Wide
Web, the problem gets really big. A Google© search
turns up over 130,000 links to “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Some are not official A.A. sites. For book
hunters, a link to ABE booksellers site reveals over
70 million books from almost 15,000 booksellers.
Many probably list books under a generic “alcoholics
anonymous” name which is not A.A.-Approved Literature.
A web search for “alcoholism treatment” turns up over
375,000 listings. Some of these websites probably
are abusing the name “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Bloggers,
chat rooms, advertisers … an endless internet.
The world is huge and next-door and A.A. is in
it. How extensive should A.A.W.S.’s protection
of A.A.’s identity and name be? Do they really
own the name Alcoholics Anonymous? Certainly AA
does not need a staff of ten or twenty-five plus more
lawyers to begin policing the entire Internet world.
American society has become increasingly litigious.
Have a dispute? Sue! Don’t settle and sign,
get a lawyer! The largest section in my local
telephone book is lawyers, over 30 pages of ads, including
the front and back covers. More than doctors,
car dealers, insurance companies, restaurants, anything.
And AAWS and the other corporate legalists in
New York have elevated the legal law above the Steps,
Traditions, and Concepts.
What harm has been done to A.A. by the Akron A.A. member
and I.W.S. who published the facsimile 1939 A.A.
Big Book and the paperback big book?
None. What harm has the Mexican and German A.A.
members done by reprinting the AA Big Book? None.
What harm have booksellers on eBay done to A.A.
by offering thousands of A.A. literature works to
A.A. members seeking A.A. history? None.
For the first 50 years of A.A. the Fellowship has had
a sterling reputation and been recognized as the gold
standard in the field because it avoided self-promotion,
public controversy, outside issues (lawsuits), and the
pitfalls of greed, power, and authority.
A.A. has not needed to defend itself against
critics and enemies because it has had very few and
many more who have praised A.A.
Sadly, since the 1980s A.A.W.S. has employed
lawyers and made enemies within the Fellowship in Mexico,
Germany, the United States and worldwide on the web
And lawyers are not cheap. I requested a research
report from GSO on the cost of lawyers to A.A.
From 1993 to 2005, A.A.W.S. and GSO have spent
$1,527,415. on various legal fees and lawyers.
That’s an average of $117,493/yr. for the 13 years to
protect their copyrights, trademarks, to kick
people off eBay and the internet.
That was the cost to A.A.W.S. The cost
to A.A. members in the U.S., Mexico, Germany,
etc., is hard to estimate, but we know it was $300,000
in Mexico, over $100,000 in Germany and who knows how
much money, time and work it cost the A.A. members who
had 735 items kicked off eBay. GSO furnished that
735 number in another research report I requested.
Once the door was opened to lawsuits by A.A.W.S.
against A.A. members, is it any wonder that A.A.W.S.
would be sued in turn? It is not within the boundaries
of this article to pursue this but one can see what
happens by going to
down the page to “Baldwin Institute” and clicking there.
You will find a ton of new information on a $20 million
lawsuit against A.A.W.S. by the Baldwin Institute.
More lawsuits… more MONEY. The point is that this
legal road A.A.W.S. is traveling is costing a
ton of money that could be used to carry the message
to the suffering alcoholic.
“…making the minority voice both clear and loud.”
(Bill W. 1965)
Many minority voices deserve our thanks and commendation
for speaking out and publishing much of the material
in this essay. Work on this paper has included
many prominent A.A. historians, authors, GSC
Delegates, collectors and archivists, trusted servants,
and fine A.A. members. They have agreed
with the basic thesis of this paper and provided material,
guidance, and criticism. Protecting their anonymity,
they know who they are, and I thank them.
They are knowledgeable but the Fellowship-at-large has
been kept in the dark about these issues. These
legal controversies have been kept off the agenda of
the General Service Conference, buried in Trustees committees
(often controlled by those who favor legality over spirituality),
and sidetracked through parliamentary
rules. The majority voice, the thousands of A.A.
Groups, the Fellowship, has been consciously ignored.
No regional forums devoted to the entire topic.
No mention in the AA Grapevine, Box 4-5-9, or
any other A.A. communications with the groups.
One past delegate from a Northern state had these comments:
The General Service Board of Trustees and AAWS
puts “business before principles. And the delegates
are uninformed and not good enough. The General
Service Conference is so weak. There is entirely
too much publishing. It is time for some of these
trusted servants in New York, including the general
manager of GSO and some Trustees, to either resign or
be fired!” He attended the GSConference, the last
one where Lois W. and Dr. Jack Norris appeared.
He met them. “Back then we couldn’t get any background
material from GSO except for the committee we served
on. We changed that,” he said.
Thus, it is paramount that the minority voice here and
elsewhere speak out.
In that spirit, we recommend the following websites
that have extensive information on the German and Mexican
Big Book disputes, the medallions AA lawsuit
and related topics:
What spiritual principles of A.A. apply to these problems?
Clearly a review of the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions
and Twelve Concepts is in order. Here are some
of the principles cited by those involved in these lawsuits
and other problems:
Steps Eight and Nine: the Amends Steps. Clearly
harms have been done to many individuals in these
Step Four: Has the General Service Conference
taken a “fearless, searching and moral inventory”
Step Twelve: practice these principles in
all our affairs. The argument that
the Steps apply “only” to individual A.A.
members will be used by some to justify and rationalize
their corporate legal actions that have caused much
harm to A.A. Trusted A.A. servants
at AAWS, GSO, GSB, the Grapevine, and Trustees
as well as Delegates to the General Service Conference
of A.A. and other A.A.’s cannot ignore
the Steps in their personal lives nor in their service
lives to A.A.
Tradition Two: one ultimate authority…a
loving God in our group conscience…our leaders are
but trusted servants; they do not govern.
The ultimate authority in A.A. is the thousands
of A.A. groups which finds its expression
in the General Service Conference of A.A.
Tradition Four: Each group should be autonomous
except in matters affecting other groups or A.A.
as a whole.
Tradition Six: … lest problems of money, property
and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
Tradition Seven: …fully self-supporting, declining
outside contributions. Collective poverty.
Necessity of separating the spiritual from the material.
Decision to subsist on A.A. voluntary contributions
Tradition Nine: The General Service Conference,
the board of trustees and group committees cannot
issue directives to A.A. members or groups.
A.A.’s can’t be dictated to---individually
or collectively…but we may create service boards
or committees directly responsible to those
Tradition Ten: A.A. has NO opinion
on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought
never be drawn into public controversy.
Tradition Eleven: …we need always maintain
personal anonymity at the level of press, radio,
and films (and in courts of law by avoiding
them in the first place).
Tradition Twelve: Principles before Personalities.
Concept Two: The General Service Conference
of A.A. is the actual voice and effective
conscience for our whole Society. It has complete
authority for the active maintenance of our world
services. Sadly, it has been blocked from
exercising that authority by GSO and AAWS
trusted servants in New York. And…it has itself
failed to exercise that authority over them.
Concept Three: the “Right of Decision.”
Every trusted A.A. servant has the right
to make decisions in his particular area of service.
This right “ought never be used as a reason for
constantly exceeding a clearly defined authority,
nor as an excuse for persistently failing to consult
those who are entitled to be consulted before an
important decision or
be taken.” Clearly, the G.S.C. has not been
consulted about these major lawsuits and other legal
actions taken in the public domain outside the Fellowship.
Concept Four: “the ‘Right of Appeal’ … assuring
us that minority opinion will be heard and that
petitions for the redress of personal grievances
will be carefully considered.” The minority
opinion, perhaps the majority opinion, has not been
heard in the General Service Conference on these
matters. The topic of lawsuits has never been
on the GSC agenda. The Mexican A.A.
to this Right of Appeal has been totally ignored.
(Concept Six will undoubtedly be used by those supporting
the corporate legal actions of AAWS, etc.
Still the GSC has the “final decision respecting
large matters of general policy and finance.”)
Concept Seven: The Conference Charter … relies
instead upon the force of tradition and the power
of the A.A. purse for its final effectiveness.”
Concept Twelve: “…the GSC shall observe the
spirit of the A.A. Tradition…never becomes
the seat of perilous wealth or power…that none …shall
ever be placed in a position of unqualified authority
over any of the others…all important decisions be
reached by discussion, vote, and whenever possible,
by substantial unanimity…no Conference action ever
be personally punitive or an incitement to public
controversy… it shall never perform any acts of
government…the Conference itself will always remain
democratic in thought and action.”
Most importantly, the defendants in the German and
Mexican lawsuits cite Warranty Five “That no Conference
action ever be personally punitive or an incitement
to public controversy.”
It’s All About $$$
A.A. is self-supporting through its own contributions
from members and A.A. groups? The GSC 2005 Final
Report revealed that 44% of the groups contributed to
New York slightly more than $5million. Literature
sales brought in a profit of $5.7 million. The
loss for the year was $312,000. Literature sales
are not group contributions. Clearly the New York
office is dependent on lots of literature sales and
a stream of new publications is necessary. And
anything that threatens those literature sales is indeed
a threat. Is it any wonder then A.A.W.S.’s
actions against anyone or any organization that reprints
the Big Book or other works about A.A.?
Underneath it all is the fact that A.A. is NOT
self-supporting. As one delegate said it’s “business
before principles.” The largest single buyer of
Big Books is reportedly Hazelden. And they are
not charged shipping. Hazelden sells the Big Book
for $10.75 each plus shipping. AA headquarters
in New York sells it for $5. (winter catalog 2003-04)
in the 1980s, probably, a landmark decision in A.A.
history was made to defend and protect the Alcoholics
Anonymous name, the A.A. identity, and A.A.’s
intellectual property of copyrights and trademarks both
within and outside the Fellowship in public courts of
law, both civil and criminal, and in the World Service
Meeting and other A.A. service entities inside
2. This has resulted in a long list of lawsuits
against A.A. members and others outside the Fellowship.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent in
the lawsuits by A.A.; money not used to carry
the A.A. message to the suffering alcoholic.
Punitive actions, public controversy, and disunity in
A.A. have resulted.
A.A. corporations have done all this under the legal
umbrella of corporate law.
Lawsuits will inevitably require the right of
disclosure that will mean that trusted servants and
other A.A. members will have to break their anonymity
in public courts of law. Lawsuits will spawn news
coverage and public controversy about A.A. as
well as disunity, financial difficulties, and struggles
over power and authority within the Fellowship.
3. The spiritual principles of A.A.,
the Steps, the Traditions and the Concepts and Warranties
therein, have been ignored and superceded by corporate
legalism. In 1987-88, the General Service Conference
approved a major Charter change in Article 2, paragraphs
2, 3, and 4: “In countries where a General Service
Conference exists, the United States/Canada Conference
will delegate (franchise) sole right to publish our
Conference-approved literature to the General Service
Conference of that structure.” This has been used
to sue A.A. members in other countries and place
one Conference in authority over another. The
Mexican and German lawsuits are clear examples of this.
The GSC did not intend nor approve of this use of the
new Article 2.
4. The General Service Conference of A.A.
has seemed powerless to date to correct these legal
abuses of the spirituality of the Fellowship.
The GSC has not discussed the topic of these lawsuits
and other legal issues. It has not even been put
on the GSC agenda. Some trusted servants in A.A.W.S.,
GSO, GSB, and Trustees, as well as GSC members, have
blocked any effort to discuss these legal and spiritual
matters in the GSC.
Two advisory actions of the GSC that the GSB, A.A.W.S.,
Inc., and the AA Grapevine initiate NO litigation
in defense of copyrights and trademarks as per Tradition
Ten and Warranty Five failed to pass in 1995-96.
5. The Fellowship has not been informed
of all this by many Delegates. No regional forums
on the topic have been held. No A.A. communications,
letters to A.A. groups, Box 4-5-9, the AA
Grapevine, etc., have mentioned the topic. The
thousands of A.A. members in the U.S. and Canada
have been kept in the dark. As one GSO servant
justified: “This doesn’t rise to the level of
a GSC agenda item.”
These legal matters have never reached the floor of
the General Service Conference of A.A.
The Fellowship’s group conscience where the will of
God is to be found? The GSC has not been consulted
about all these legal matters.
6. “There is only one place where spirituality
and money mix and that’s in the Seventh Tradition basket.”
7. A.A. is a Fellowship of men and
women; not a corporation. One alcoholic talking
to another alcoholic, sharing their drunk story and
their recovery story. A.A. corporations
allegedly were created to serve that purpose, not thwart
2. The Power of the PURSE.
Stop sending your MONEY to A.A.W.S. !
is the only recourse ordinary A.A. members have left.
Email this article to all your A.A. Friends !
4. Discuss this with your
home group, district, assembly and delegate.
Ask your Delegate to repeal the Article 2 Charter change
and put this
mess on the April 2006 General Service Conference
Ask your Delegate to support a moratorium on all lawsuits
or other legal
actions involved in suing or harassing anyone about
copyrights, trademarks, or the A.A. identity
inside or outside of A.A.
Ask your Delegate to put a motion on the floor at the
to censure A.A.W.S., GSO, GSB, GV, and Trustees
for a conspiracy of silence on this mess and failure
to observe A.A.’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts
Quotes of the Steps, Traditions and Concepts have been
taken from “official” A.A.-Approved Literature
NOTE: The terms “Alcoholics Anonymous,” “A.A.”
and “AA” when used to identify a business entity
have been italicized in this article to
make clear they ARE not The Fellowship of Alcoholics
Anonymous and ARE one of the entities and corporations
using the name “A.A.” A.A.W.S. is
not the A.A. Fellowship.
NOTE: The term “Big Book®” is a registered trademark
of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. Advisory Actions of the General Service
Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous (ADGSCAA)
1951-2004, page 60.
2. summary from an anonymous AA trusted
3. Report of Ad Hoc Committee, Feb. 19, 1996.
4. The A.A. Service Manual – combined
with = Twelve Concepts for World Service by Bill
W. A.A.W.S., 1962-2002, see page
S86. And Advisory Actions of the General Service
Conference of Anonymous Alcoholics 1951-2004.
A.A.W.S., 1978-2003, pp 100-101.
Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference
of Alcoholics Anonymous 1951-2004.
A.A.W.S., 1978-2004. 151pp.
2. The A.A.
Service Manual - combined with – Twelve Concepts
for World Service by Bill W. A.A.W.S., 1962-2002.
Revised edition, pp S113 and 75pp.
3. Alcoholics Anonymous,
1939-2004, the Big Book.
4. Twelve Steps and
Twelve Traditions, 1953-2004.
5. Alcoholics Anonymous
Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A.
6. Extensive interviews
with A.A. members and trusted servants, archivists,
collectors, authors and historians.
7. Extensive use of
minority voice websites on these topics. (thank
God for the internet and world wide web)
Below are some excellent websites for your perusal in
addition to the ones listed in the article. This
essay could not have been written without the internet,
world wide web, and the computer. Explore!
It’s called open-mindedness.
About the Author
Charles Bishop, Jr.
is celebrating 30 years as a full-time Antiquarian Bookseller-Appraiser
in the Literature of
Alcoholics Anonymous and Alcoholism. Over the years
he has issued 46 catalogs of books about alcoholism
for sale. The Bishop of Books is his company name. He
is the co-author with Bill Pittman of To Be Continued…The
Alcoholics Anonymous World Bibliography 1935-1994.
He has published 11 books on A.A. and The History of
Alcoholism. He has appraised the libraries
of Dr. Robert H. Smith, Co-Founder of A.A.; Ernest Kurtz,
author of NOT-GOD: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous;
Clarence Snyder, Cleveland A.A. founder; as well as
numerous private collections. For 12 years he published
an annual Sobriety Calendar. He sold his private alcoholism
library of 15,000 items to Brown University where it
resides as The Chester Kirk Collection of Alcoholics
Anonymous and Alcoholism. He has presented topics on
alcoholism history and A.A. at St. Francis Hospital
and IRETA, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Bethany College, Bethany,
WV; West Virginia University Mining School; and Gateway
Treatment Center. He was the West Virginia Area 73 A.A.
Archivist for six years. He is a 1960 graduate of Wheeling
Jesuit University, Wheeling, WV.
He lives at 46 Eureka
Ave., Wheeling, WV 26003
Phone: (304) 242-2937.
God bless, servus, Charlie Bishop, Jr.
the above in PDF format "Spirituality
versus Legalism in Alcoholics Anonymous"
Also see this article written by the Bishop of books:
Time Is A.A.?" -by the Bishop of Books