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The A.A. German Court Case

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

Despite what you may have read or heard about Alcoholics Anonymous, Inc. (AAWS) being involved in litigation matters, it is true.

Since 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).

Despite 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 party line."

The 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.

Big Book is Public Domain

The 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.

In 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.

The 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.

Violations of Traditions

The 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.

The 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…

The 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.

AAWS Employee is a Witness

They 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.

Many 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 court.

I 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.

The 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.

All 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.

Long-reaching Ramifications

What 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.

AAWS 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.

The 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?

More will be revealed...

Mitchell K.

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