AA World Services Inc. policy on litigation 1999

There has been much debate about the AA World Services policy on litigation
and much has been written, and said, about that policy. I would like to
examine the policy, and the reasons given by AA World Services, and endorsed
by the General Service Board, for the necessity of that policy.  AA World
Services and the General Service Board claim that they have a fiduciary
responsibility to protect the SPIRITUAL ASSETS of Alcoholics Anonymous, and
must protect the INTEGRITY of our message. In my dictionary fiduciary is
defined as "held or holding in trust for another". It would appear that, in
this case, the protection of literature is taking precedence over the
preservation of our spiritual legacy. It should be pointed out that the Big
Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has been in the public domain in this country for
better than thirty years and no one has ever attempted to change the message
it carries nor, with the exception of AA World Services, to make a profit from
it. The members of AA [in Mexico] who have engaged in printing and distributing the Big
Book, for sale at actual production cost, have done so because they felt that
they had a legitimate complaint with AA World Services over pricing, and other
matters. However, their complaints were ignored, or dismissed out of hand. Had
these complaints been addressed by the General Service Board, or the General
Service Conference, as provided for in the Concepts, we would probably have
had no problem concerning our literature.

First a little history. In 1993, following the disastrous legal action by AA
World Services , the result of which we lost the use of the circle and
triangle as an AA symbol, the General Service Conference formed an Ad Hoc
Committee to look into how best to protect our trademarks and copyrights and
stay within the Traditions. This Committee was to report back to the 1994
Conference with their recommendations. The Committee met and, unable to come
to a consensus within that Committee, reported back to the Conference with a
recommendation that the Conference allow the entire Fellowship to discuss the
issue for a period of two years, and thus arrive at an informed opinion of
what measures should be taken in matters of protecting the trademarks and
copyrights. In the meantime, AA World Services formulated what they called a
"new" policy concerning litigation. That policy, to paraphrase, was that AA
World Services would enter into litigation only after all other avenues had
been exhausted. A "Floor Action" was introduced asking the Conference to
accept the "new" AA World Services policy on litigation, and the Committee
recommendation. This "Floor Action" was voted on by the 1994 Conference and
was rejected by a vote of 80 some odd opposed and 30 some odd in favor. In
spite of the better than two-thirds rejection by the Conference, the "new" AA
World Services policy on litigation is still in effect. The following year,
1995, the request of an AA Area to place the issue of litigation on the
Conference was denied by the Trustees Committee. However, a "Floor Action" was
introduced asking the Conference to consider this issue. It was brought to the
Conference floor late in the afternoon of the last day that Conference
business was considered. The Conference voted "not to consider". This was the
first time, ever, a Conference had refused to consider a "Floor Action"
introduced while in session. Since that time two other Areas have proposed
this issue as a Conference Agenda item and both times the request was denied
by the Trustees Committee. Despite claims to the contrary, this issue has
never been placed on the Conference Agenda for active consideration by the

The disturbing element in this affair is that the Conference Charter
designates the General Service Conference as the "guardian" of world
services and of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
in Section One of that Charter. Section Three of the Charter states, "The
Conference will act for AA in the perpetuation and guidance of its world
services, and it will also be the vehicle by which the AA movement can express
its view upon all matters of vital AA policy and all hazardous deviations from
AA Tradition." The whole argument of the minority is that litigation is a
violation of the Traditions, and yet the Conference refuses to accept their
responsibility in this matter. In Concept Twelve, Warranty Five states, in
part, "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 a 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."

In the present litigation, pursued in Germany, the asset supposedly being
protected is the Big Book, or the so-called "official" German translation of
that book. Their claim is that a translation that has been printed and
distributed by an AA group, free of charge, was not "officially approved" by
AA World Services in New York and, since it did not have that approval, would
very possibly distort, or compromise, the "integrity" of our message.
According to a source in Germany, there are already three very different
"official versions" of 1962, 1974 and 1983, and the new translation of 1996 is
closer to the original than all of those three. Many letters were written to
the German and New York General Service Offices for correction of mistakes in
the "official versions". Others had been submitted earlier. They were
discussed and considered at the General Services Offices and with the
literature committee. The result was, that they more or less reluctantly
agreed, that their (the "official") translation is not close to the original
in all points. But they said, they would not change anything. Other reasons
given were:
 - we cannot change a single word before the General Service Conference
discussed and agreed.
(NOTE: Translations of the Big Book in foreign languages are not approved by
the US/Canada General Service Conference. Lack of expertise of these languages
puts such approval beyond the scope of this Conference.)
- we have still 3000 books on stock and must first sell out
 - the current book is so nicely designed (hardcover + dust jacket), we need
it exactly the way it is to keep up our reputation.
 - there is too much religious things in the English text, this would block
German newcomers and we cannot do that.
 - committee members had done good work and they would not criticize them or
challenge their reputation in any way.
 It is entirely possible that the "new" translation is a superior product.
Instead of working with that group to resolve their differences, the German
General Service Office, encouraged by AA World Services, is pursuing legal
action against that group. They [AAWS Inc.] have singled out one individual with
the apparent intent to destroy that individual both financially and as an
effective member of AA. The latter because, as a condition to settle the
lawsuit, that individual must agree to never again purchase, or give away, any
AA literature including but not limited to the big book. The rest of the group
remain in a kind of limbo with charges neither dismissed nor pursued. While
the population in North America is around 220 million people we have
approximately 4 or 5 million alcoholics here. Since 1939 we have sold a total
of 15 million Big Books and we now sell 800,000 to 1,000,000 a year. There is
a German speaking population of about 100 or 120 million in Germany, Austria,
Switzerland, North Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and Russia.
Among professionals there, they talk about 2 to 6 million German alcoholics,
depending on the definition of the disease. In 1978 when AA was 43 years old
we had more than 30,000 groups with an estimated membership over 600,000. The
German Fellowship is now also 43 years old but they have only about 2000
groups and only about 20,000 members. Within the last decade only 4000 German
Big Books were sold a year.

If the Trustees (General Service Board members) continue to ignore, or
disregard, the "minority opinion" our current problems will multiply. A full
and open discussion of all controversial subjects is the only way to avoid
disunity within our ranks. The process of the "Group Conscience" was designed
to resolve problems as they occur. This process is currently being manipulated
and, by doing so, is defeating the purpose for which it was designed. The
Trustees are not solely to blame for this situation. The Delegates share equal
responsibility for abandoning their role as "guardians", as the majority
members of the General Service Conference. Warranty Five states, "Because our
General Service Conference represents us all, this body is especially charged
with the duty of setting the highest possible standard with respect to these
attitudes of no punishments and no public controversy. The Conference will
have to do more than just represent these principles; it will frequently have
to apply them to specific situations.. And, at times, the Conference will need
to take certain protective actions, especially in the area of Tradition
violations". Yet the Trustees refuse to allow a place on the Conference Agenda
for discussion and a vote on this matter. Likewise, the Conference refuses to
consider any "Floor Actions" introduced by the minority proposing a full
Conference discussion.

All of our Alcoholics Anonymous Boards are legal corporations but, they are
unlike any comparable corporate boards. The by-laws of the General Service
Board state that the Board has but one purpose, that of serving the Fellowship
of Alcoholics Anonymous. They further state that "all of their deliberations
and decisions shall be guided by the Twelve Traditions and they shall use
their best efforts to insure that these Twelve Traditions be maintained and it
shall not itself nor, so far as it is within its power so to do, permit others
to modify, alter, or amplify these Traditions except in keeping with the
provisions of the Charter" (The General Service Conference Charter). In that
Conference Charter, Section 10, Paragraph 4 states, and I quote: "Except for
decisions upon matters of policy, finance or AA Tradition, liable to seriously
affect AA as a whole, the General Service Board has entire freedom of action
in the routine conduct of the policy and business affairs of the AA. general
headquarters". In that same Section,  the final paragraph: "Except in great
emergency, neither the General Service Board nor any of its related services
ought ever take any action liable to greatly affect AA as a whole, without
first consulting the Conference". This matter was considered so important
that, in order to emphasize it, it was stated not once, but twice.

A past Chairman of the General Service Board expressed a concern about the
apparent "spiritual erosion" in AA. In my humble opinion, that erosion is
directly attributable to a hardened opposition of our service boards to any
objections taken to policies they consider good business decisions. In some
circles this is called "protecting our territory". Many people have tried to
point out to them that AA was never intended to be a business in the normal
sense of that word. Our PRIMARY PURPOSE is described more than adequately in
our Fifth Tradition "Each AA group ought to be a SPIRITUAL ENTITY having but
one primary purpose--that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still
suffers". Any other activity, including the publishing of our literature, is
to support our endeavors in this primary purpose. The intent of the early AA's
who adopted the Warranties is made clear by the following quote: "We have no
doctrine that has to be maintained. We have no membership that has to be
enlarged. We have no authority that has to be supported. We have no prestige,
power, or pride that has to be satisfied. And we have no property or money
that is really worth quarreling about".

All arguments I have heard in support of litigation is based on inducing fear.
I don't know how many times I have heard fearful statements about "we may lose
the rights to our literature forever if we don't protect it by legal means".
The truth of the matter is our literature is of no use to anyone else, except
to help an alcoholic recover. Our literature concerns alcoholism only and is
useful only for that purpose. Treatment centers hand these books and pamphlets
out by the truckloads, yet those same treatment centers are not very
successful without AA support and participation. Anyone in this country can
produce and distribute our Big Book without fear of penalty because it resides
in the public domain. Have you ever wondered why no one does? Because there is
no profit to be gained from it. We have been told since the beginnings of AA
that the only way we can keep our sobriety is to give it away. Now it seems
our main concern is that someone is going to steal it. How many books could we
have given away with the money that has been spent on legal activity? Our
philosophy of open, generous giving has evolved into jealous, protective
combativeness. How long are we going to operate in this manner? It, dear
reader, depends on you.

Jesse L., Past A.A. General Service Conference Delegate, Panel 44 (1994-1995)

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