This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K. - a witness in the German court case, updating a previous report on this court proceeding.



Threats by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Attempt Cutting Off a Member's Right To Communicate with the Fellowship.

Even though AA's GSO in Germany lost part of the case relating to translations other than German, they continue to harass and threaten not only the AA member there and the group he belongs to (AA Big Book Study Group - BBSG), AAeV (the German GSO) and AAWS have successfully threatened outside enterprises in their attempt to bankrupt and destroy this AA member.

 The Big Book Study Group in Germany had a web site located on the German subsidiary of America On-Line (AOL); they also had their e-mail address there as well. In a letter dated August 12, 1999, from the German GSO's lawyer (Frieder Roth) to AOL Bertlsmann Online, Ltd. & Co. (German AOL) he stated the following:

 "We represent Anonymous Alcoholics Interest Society, Inc., Munich (AAeV). Additionally we are empowered by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS) in New York." This means that this lawyer is acting on behalf of, and with full permission of, both the German GSO and AAWS in New York. The letter continues:

 "Our clients (AAeV and AAWS) are owners of exclusive rights in the literary work ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, and its author is Bill Wilson."

Is the Copyright Valid?

The Big Book was copyrighted on April 10, 1939 by Bill and registered with the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC. April 19, 1939. The validity of this copyright is currently in question and until now has never been challenged in a court of law. This may change.

 When the pre-publication manuscript (or so-called Multilith) was published in February 1939 it contained the following statement on the bottom of the Foreword page:

 ""This multilith volume will be sent upon receipt of $3.50, and the printed book will be mailed, at no additional cost, as soon as the book is published."

And further it says on page 77:

"To order this book, send your check or money order for $3. 50 to:

The Works Publishing Company, 
17 William Street, 
Newark, N. J."

 These statements show that the Multilith was sold to the general public without any statement of copyright or copyright intent. It also had no statement that the Multilith was a loan copy. According to a prominent copyright attorney who was consulted in this matter, this means that there was no legal copyright in effect and that the book was in the public domain since February 1939. His legal opinion follows:

A Legal Opinion

"In response to your question regarding publication of a work in the United States under the 1909 Copyright Act without notice, please be advised that this would inject the work into the public domain. Affixation of the notice to publicly distribute copies was a condition to copyright protection under the 1909 Copyright Act and also under the 1976 Copyright Act prior to March 1, 1989 when amendments became effective to conform to the Berne Convention. As a general rule, copyright protection was forfeited if the notice was not affixed."

 Even if there was a valid and legal copyright on the AA book, AAWS allowed the 1st Edition copyright to lapse in 1967 and the copyright on the 2nd Edition lapsed in 1983. Thus placing both editions in the public domain forever.

 AAWS has always stated that their primary interest was in the preservation of the integrity of the text. Despite the fact that the translations and English version published by BBSG for free distribution worldwide held to the original text and there was no loss of integrity, AAWS continues to litigate against BBSG.

Property Rights

It has been proven that the current litigation is not about the integrity of the text, but about the financial interests of AAWS. Frieder Roth's letter to AOL continues:

 "For our clients, that book is of enormous importance for business (note: economic value). Considerable parts of financial resources, which are at the command of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS for the good of alcoholic addicts, come from sales revenues."

 AAWS is threatened by the free worldwide distribution of the Big Book to those alcoholics who cannot afford to purchase them (including those in European countries where their GSO's charge upwards of almost $50 - US for each copy). Again, it is not about the integrity of the text - it is about money and property.

 According to the book, TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS (12&12), "Then our Trustees wrote a bright page of A.A. History. They declared for the principle that A.A. must always stay poor." (Page 165)

Read the Manual

Despite its declaration of poverty, AAWS maintains an $11 million dollar reserve and has probably over a million dollars in legal fees fighting to maintain money and property. AA's Service Manual and Concepts for World Service is perfectly clear in relation to litigation issues. It states in the Twelfth Concept, Warranty Five the following:

 "To the minds of some AA's, 'guardianship' of the AA Traditions implies the right and the duty on the part of the Conference to publicly punish or sue every willful violator. But we could not adopt worse policy; indeed such aggressive public acts would place the Conference in the position of having violated one AA Tradition in order to defend another. Therefore aggressive or punitive action, even in this area, must be omitted."

 AAWS states that Bill Wilson was the sole author of the Big Book. How could this be possible when even Bill stated in AA Comes of Age that he was more of an umpire than an author? It is widely accepted that Hank P. was the author of the chapter, TO EMPLOYERS, and that the early fellowship edited and changed the text both in New York and Akron. It was more of a group effort than of any individual member - including Bill.

Printing Company Threatened

In order to gain a legal copyright in Mexico, AAWS had to submit documentation proving authorship of the Big Book. Mexican law states that in order to have a valid copyright of a work, there must be a living author. To circumvent this legality, AAWS' documents show that Wayne Parks (then General Manager of AAWS) was reported to be the sole author of the Big Book. How could this be when they had already falsely stated that Bill was the sole author? How could there be two sole authors even though Wayne was not a part of AA in 1939?

 Getting back to Frieder Roth's letter to AOL comes the worst part of this tragedy. In it he states:

 "The requests of my clients because of copyright infringement are also directed against your company (AOL) as a provider of net services. You must be seen as an interfering disturber, and therefore you are subject to claims of my clients…you are assured that our clients will immediately take legal action…" if AOL fails to remove all of BBSG's web sites and e-mail accounts.

 AOL capitulated to the legal threat by AAWS and on Wednesday, August 18, 1999, they dropped the BBSG accounts and they are no longer available on the Internet through AOL. A similar letter by Frieder Roth was sent to the printing company who printed the translations of the Big Book by BBSG. They too capitulated and ceased printing the books scheduled for free distribution. Thus for now, AAWS has succeeded in silencing BBSG and removing them from carrying the message of recovery as does any other AA Group - unless of course they choose to purchase high priced AA literature (at a much higher price than is charged in the US).

Primary Target

If the litigation now in appeal is lost, they won't even be able to purchase AA literature even at the higher price. One of the stipulations is that they cannot purchase any AA or recovery literature, sell any AA or recovery literature or give away any AA or recovery related literature. This will effectively stop this AA group from carrying the message of recovery and therefore, cease to exist.

 AAWS' primary target is to stop the free distribution of literature to those who cannot afford it. Frieder Roth's letter states that:

 "Everybody can download the text of the work to his computer. Besides this, people interested in the printed book are offered the possibility to order it and get it via post office mail free of charge."

 AAWS did not - YET - go after any of the other sites on the Internet who offers downloadable versions of the Big Book. They only, for now, attempt to destroy this one site. Eventually, for purposes of money, property and prestige, they will go after all Internet sites related to recovery that threaten their financial and business entity. The availability of reading the Big Book on-line is in jeopardy even as you read this.

Profit Motive

They have stopped AOL from hosting web sites, they have stopped a printer from printing free books financed by 7th Tradition member contributions and they will continue until they have control of everything AA members read and/or see on the Internet and elsewhere. If these are not the actions of a dictatorial government rather than a spiritual entity I don't know what is!

 AAWS has proven by their actions that they are not attempting to save the integrity of the basic text. They have proven that they are all about money and property. They have proven that they are against carrying the message of recovery to the still sick and suffering alcoholic unless they can make money off of it.

 I, for one, do not wish to make money off of AA or the sick and suffering alcoholic. I also feel just as strongly that AAWS should not be about making money off of the still sick and suffering alcoholic. AA should be self-supporting through member contributions and NOT literature sales. AA should be a spiritual entity, founded upon spiritual principles and not a business continued upon a profit motive. A profit motive at the expense of the fellowship of AA in its attempt to carry the message of recovery based upon the basic text. 

Give it Away

Even Ruth Hock, AA's first secretary stated in PASS IT ON (Bill's biography published by AAWS) that the book was always intended to be given away free of charge after the initial expenses were paid off.

 BBSG was just fulfilling that intent and has been stopped (for now) by a business intent on profit and control. Others will take up the printing and distribution of free literature to those who seek recovery. When they are forced into bankruptcy by AAWS, others will take their place.

 There are those in AA who still believe that profit should never be a motive in AA recovery despite the fact that AAWS is only interested in profit and that the integrity of the text is not in question in this case. Our way of life should be available to ALL who seek it, not only those who can afford to buy books.