A.A. German Court Case
article is written by nationally recognized historian
and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell
K., a witness in the German court case.
what you may have read or heard about Alcoholics Anonymous,
Inc. (AAWS) being involved in litigation matters, it is
1985, AAWS has been actively involved in court cases as
plaintiff against companies and individuals who AAWS perceive
as violating certain intellectual property rights claimed
by AAWS (copyright/trademark).
AA Tradition warning against owning property and having
money matters diverting AA from its primary purpose, AAWS
does own property and spends hundreds of thousands of
dollars in legal fees in order to keep this property and
punish those who wish to differ from the "official
current case in Germany involves an individual AA member
and AA Group that has taken it upon themselves to print
and distribute at no charge, books containing the first
164 pages of the AA book. These translations are in several
different languages including English, Spanish, Swedish,
Russian and German. These translations are in fact; virtually
identical to the original version printed in 1939. This
1939 AA "Big Book ®" is supposedly being
called copyrighted by AAWS. This is not the truth.
Book is Public Domain
fact is the AA book's copyright registration was allowed
to lapse both on the First Edition and Second Edition.
Upon investigation, it has been proven that indeed, there
never was a valid copyright on the AA book. Several independent
Intellectual Property (copyright) lawyers were consulted
and they have found that since the original Multilith
Manuscript was published, distributed and sold without
any notice of copyright or notice that it was a review
or loan copy, it was immediately placed in the public
domain since early 1939. According to the Copyright Act
of 1909, any publication that was published without these
notices forfeited the right of copyright.
the German case, the "official" and "authorized"
translation is attempted to be held as the true translation.
AAeV, the German General Service Office claims that they
negotiated the contract with AAWS in New York to translate
and publish the AA book for Germany.
AA program of recovery has always been of a spiritual
nature. As a spiritual entity, AA members rely upon a
"power greater than ourselves" in order to accomplish
recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.
This spirituality had been, for the most part, taken out
of the "official" German translation. Most of
those in a power of authority in the German General Service
Office are either atheists or agnostics according to many
AA members in Germany.
original AA book mentions the word "spiritual"
150 times within the text. Over one hundred times just
within the first 164 pages alone. The "official"
German translation mentions "spiritual" less
than 10 times just in the "program" portion
of their text. In other words, the spiritual nature of
AA has been effectively removed from German AA.
litigation in Germany involves the German GSO litigating
against an AA member for copyright infringement despite
the AA book being in the public domain. They also violate
AA's Tradition of Anonymity by using the AA member's full
name as a matter of public court records. AA's Service
Manual states that AA will NEVER be personally punitive
in its actions against an AA member or Group. However
German GSO is asking for approximately $304,000 in fines
to be levied against the individual AA member in question
and if he cannot afford to pay these fines, that he be
incarcerated for a period of 6 months for each charge
they bring against him.
Employee is a Witness
are also asking that all of the books the AA Group in
Germany has printed be handed over in order to be destroyed!
If anyone knows history, Germany was known for its book
burning during the early part of this century.
will ask, "what does AAWS have to do with this court
case?" The litigation in Germany was brought with
the full authorization AND knowledge of AAWS. In fact,
an employee of AAWS was sent to Germany as an official
representative. That person, the Publications Director
for AAWS served as a witness for the plaintiff (AAeV -
German GSO) representing AAWS in this matter before the
was also asked to come to Germany in order to appear as
an expert witness for the defense. As an Archivist, consultant
and AA historian with some recognition within the AA history
community, I was happy to do this. However, there wasn't
enough time for me to appear before the court but I did
offer whatever expertise I could for the defendant.
next phase of the case has been scheduled for the middle
of March 1999. I may be called to a German Embassy prior
to that date in order to be deposed as to my knowledge
of AA history relating to the case.
of the books involved have been and are continuing to
be, distributed at no charge. The cost of production and
distribution has been covered by donations from AA members.
NO ONE is making any money for doing this 12 Step work.
No one that is except for all of the high priced lawyers
hired by AAeV and AAWS.
AAWS has done is open a literal "Pandora's Box"
when they began their litigation process, since it has
been determined that there never was a valid copyright
on the AA book. All those who have been taken to court
by AAWS may now turn around and file suite against AAWS
for money they lost due to legal and court costs as well
as so-called loss of business, pain and suffering.
may also be open to a class action suite from AA members
in order to get back from the "Prudent Reserve"
of over $10 Million dollars AAWS is holding in interest-bearing
accounts for unwise use of AA member donated funds and
literature sales. AAWS may have to dip into these reserves
to return this money spent on lawyers to the Fellowship
in order to be better spent on real 12 Step work rather
than personally punitive actions against AA members.
next time an AA Group or Intergroup sends a donation to
AAWS, ask how much of YOUR money is being spent on lawyers
and court costs rather than on 12 Step work to help the
still sick and suffering alcoholic? In one case alone,
approximately $118,000 of YOUR money was spent on lawyers
and other legal fees - how many active alcoholics died
because that money was wasted paying lawyers?
will be revealed...