of AA to the World
Issued September 2001
Bob M. Past Delegate Panel 43, 1993 - 1994
Four points to secure the future of AA
AA Conference Charter: Litigation and Article IIOne of the biggest challenges to our spiritual heritage and our AA way of life in general has and will be the issue of litigation. This issue affects the very heart of our spiritual effectiveness in our basic 12-Step work itself.
Litigation is an action, which is opposed to all of our 36 spiritual principles. Yet we continue to litigate against and threatened AA members, groups, and entire Service Structures throughout the world. Two major litigations were instigated by us: in Mexico and currently in Germany.
The Mexico LitigationIn Mexico many groups became aware that their Service Structure, Central Mexicana, was getting too far into money, property, and authority. They were operating too much like a business. The Big Book cost was too high for most members to afford. So 1,500 groups broke away in August 1986 and formed a new Service Structure, Seccion Mexico (AA Section Mexico), which was to grow to nearly 2,500 groups in the next 10 years.
This new service structure utilized our 36 spiritual principles very well. Even their Conferences were completely paid for by the "voluntary contributions of the groups" and admission was free ("no dues or fees"). Section Mexico printed and sold the Big Book at cost. A notarized letter from A.A.W.S. of February 17, 1994 called this copyright and trademark infringement. And for this Section Mexico has been punished.
In Mexico copyright violations are criminal and not civil. Also in Mexico any anonymous book was only protected for 50 years after publication. Even if our Big Book would not have been public domain due to publication without copyright notice in January 1939, any protection would have expired in Mexico no later than 1989. A book having a single author of a known name would have protection until 50 years after his death. Mysteriously a name, WGNE PARKS, also PARKS WYNE (sic) appeared from our G.S.O./A.A.W.S. on Mexican Copyright Office affidavits as sole author of the Big Book and all the other AA books, booklets and pamphlets. Also there was the above stated notarized letter from G.S.O. giving permission to Central Mexicana to take whatever legal actions they wish to become the sole distributor of the Big Book. Then our trusted servants stated to our fellowship that it was an internal problem in Mexico and they had nothing to do with it.
Section Mexico decided to follow our spiritual principles and not fight the criminal action. Warranty Five of Concept Twelve: "That no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy." Also from Warranty Five: "Those early Conferences believed that the power to sue would be a dangerous thing for us to possess. It was recognized that a public lawsuit is a public controversy, something in which our Tradition says we may not engage."
The result of the criminal lawsuit besides having the Federal Police
raid their AA offices and confiscate all their literature and books on
July 4th, 1994, was the enormous cost** taken away from
12-Step work. Also AA members
had our treasured anonymity broken against their will, and tragically
one member of the Service Board (Xavier) was even sentenced to one year
The German lawsuitsIn German speaking Europe (population about 100 million people, six million being alcoholics) the fellowship struggled for correctly translated Big Book paperback or pocket size editions for decades, but was constantly ignored by their local G.S.O. As a result less than 5000 Big Books were distributed annually and German members lacked knowledge and practice of the AA program as laid down in our book. Even those who could afford to buy a book were misled by the fact that it suggested a mental-psychological awakening. The word spiritual was removed from the German text more than a hundred times. Step one stated we are powerless. Step four skipped the word moral. Step 11 suggested prayer and thinking. These are but a few examples of the "interpretation" given our book and our program of recovery. G.S.O. New York expressed concern regarding these wrongs in the 80's, but German G.S.O. ignored such ominous warnings and went ahead and continued to sell this diluted message for DM25 (about $18 at that time). Although the back of the title page states this book was copyrighted, the copyright had entirely failed to protect the integrity of our message.
As a result the relapse rate among AAs increased dramatically. In 1995 GSC issued a recommendation to bring law suits against book shops offering AA literature published by the German G.S.O. The recommendation said "because of spiritual reasons we should maintain a distribution monopoly" for AA literature. Obviously, there was an emergency. With participation of US and Mexican AA members, the AA Big Book Study Group (AA BBSG) was formed in 1995 to educate themselves and newcomers how to practice our AA principles. In October 1995 one AA newsletter covered "Greshem's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous" which suggested a solution to the apparent problems: a Back to Basics approach. This article was well recognized throughout all German-speaking groups. Independent local Big Book studies and step study meetings sprung up. However, German General Service Conference of March 1996 decided to continue with overpriced and wrongly translated Big Books. This was the point when AA BBSG felt obliged to take action. They, as a group, published a pocket-sized version with a translation that more accurately reflected the original English text. During the national AA Convention in Bremen, Germany (April 1996) books were given away for free by the thousands. People grasped the message like dry sponge sucks in fresh water. A second printing had to follow soon and by fall of 1996 about 30,000 booklets were gone. The Big Book was a topic now at meetings. Many expressed deep gratitude for a spiritual solution.
This new awareness also pushed sales of the G.S.O. version of the book to an all time high in 1996 (18.4% up). Despite that, German G.S.O. mailed letters to all German speaking groups saying this was non-approved literature, a copyright
violation and a falsification of the fellowship's intellectual property. G.S.O.'s former public relations officer visited some AA BBSG members and was more specific about what the G.S.O. general manager and AA Board members had in mind. He said, "If you do not comply with our requests we will destroy you mentally and financially!" On April 7th, 1997 German G.S.O. brought criminal charges and requested the police to investigate the members of AA BBSG. The whole group and one member in particular was accused of unlawful collection of money, essentially declaring our group's 7th tradition to be criminal. There were also accusations re: cheating income tax, copyright violation and more. When Attorney General of State found nothing wrong or unlawful, G.S.O. went ahead and pushed for criminal prosecution in Supreme Court. G.S.O. filed civil lawsuits against one AA BBSG member whom they knew by full name and against supportive non-AA members as well. They claimed copyright violation and requested that existing Big Books to be destroyed and substantial fines to be paid (up to about US$ 286,000.00) or 6 months in jail each. Because German G.S.O. failed and lost one of these civil lawsuits for a half million German Marks, A.A.W.S. Inc. (New York) entered into the litigation directly in September 1999. The courts investigated thoroughly and eventually dropped all criminal charges.
We wonder what God would think about that?
How can AA justify all these actions with our Steps, Traditions or Concepts?
Since 1987 the changed Charter reads, "In countries where a General Service Structure exists, the United States/Canada Conference will delegate sole right to publish our Conference-approved literature to the General Service Board of that structure." It was suggested that this new wording of Article II only made it into the Service Manual, because it could be interpreted as an obligation of US/Canada to grant rights to publish. But in reality things went much worse than that. G.S.C. was never presented with any proposals to grant publication rights nor did it ever grant such a right to anyone. Until now, all that has happened was that some legal copyright license agreements were arranged behind closed doors by A.A.W.S. Inc. without knowledge or approval of the delegates, let alone the fellowship as a whole. All three of such legal agreements for Germany of August 26, 1996 did not stand in court and were rejected as insufficient. A.A.W.S. had to issue legally improved agreements on April 17, 2000. But, when it comes to foreign language Big Books the term "conference-approved" degenerated to mean merely A.A.W.S.-approved. Our Conference delegates were neither involved nor were they informed. AA members and groups of foreign countries have no choice if we, the U.S./Canada members, continue to allow our A.A.W.S. to dictate the "sole" framework for those supposedly "autonomous" service structures. We are at fault if, by silence, we support our A.A.W.S. in disallowing these foreign service structures to be responsible to "those they serve" and back up the profit motivated monopoly that sell our books in foreign countries.
We AA members should remind ourselves that we are not talking about peanuts like the size or color of a three ring binder here. We are faced with serious threats to our Conference Charter. The Charter itself states it could only be changed by a three-quarters vote by all Conference members. Has the Conference had any floor discussion or debate on these issues? Has the other side been allowed to present their position to the Conference? The answer is NO.
It is interesting that these substantial changes to the AA Conference Charter occurred just eight months after Section Mexico was formed at the next General Service Conference (1987).
More interestingly still, one year before (in 1986) the following
was placed in the Service Manual under
"How G.S.O. Is Supported":
"All activities at G.S.O. are lumped into two categories for the purpose of reporting expenses: service and publishing expense. In the past, AA groups contributed enough to cover about two-thirds of the service expense. The remainder was covered by publishing income, which was in excess of that required for publishing expense."
What can we do?For an informed group conscience the groups need to be informed. Copy this and pass it around in your groups, Districts, Areas, etc. There are proposals to bring these issues before the Conference, let your Delegate know what you think about these issues.
Or write us through: [email protected]