I chose the legal definition as my "personal definition".
General Service Board Report -2004 -- Challenge to AA Unity and Legacy
Chronology of the German Lawsuit - Addendum to: Alcoholics Anonymous -
Our Name and Our Message
In 1993, an individual living in Germany communicated with the General
Service Offices in both Germany and Canada/US that he intended to
publish his German translation of Alcoholics Anonymous . He was
advised that the copyright on the AA Big Book remained in effect in
Germany, and that the German General Service Board held the license to
publish/distribute the approved German translation of Alcoholics
Despite the best efforts of the German Board, as well as many
communications from our Board, the man published and distributed his
German translation of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Board of AA in Germany
consulted with their General Service Conference, and retained legal
counsel to explain to the individual the seriousness of publishing "AA
literature" that had not been considered or approved by a
representative group conscience or Conference, and was not authorized
by an AA board licensed for that purpose.
Every possible means of communication was utilized to explain to the
individual the seriousness of continued distribution of literature
without authorization. We began to hear from AA members and groups who
were concerned with the man's efforts to gain support for his
enterprise. He appeared at AA events, often without invitation, and
encouraged concern and unrest among AA's.
Coincidentally, Directors serving on the AA World Services, Inc. Board
reported to the 44th General Service Conference (1994) that, "The
position of the AAWS Board is to avoid litigation whenever possible.
If it were decided to prohibit all litigation respecting identifying
marks and copyrights, such action could have the effect of abandoning
the AA name and copyrights forever, along with the integrity of our
message and our identity." The resolution was discussed during that
Conference and, on occasion, in succeeding Conferences. Boards,
management and staff furnished background on the subject to interested
AA members, groups and/or service bodies.
1994-1996, the individual distributing unauthorized "AA" literature
traveled to Mexico several times, where he met with a small, but vocal
group of AA members who were challenging licenses to publish approved
translations of AA literature granted to the General Service Board of
AA in Mexico (Central Mexicana).
November 1996, the individual distributing translations of "AA"
literature without authorization, came to New York City and asked to
meet with the General Manager  of our General Service Office. The
General Manager and a Staff member met with the German visitor, who
was accompanied by two friends from Germany.
During the lengthy meeting, the General Manager carefully explained
the obligations and responsibilities of AAWS to AA as a whole, that
is, to assure the integrity of our printed message, including doing so
through approved translations licensed to boards elected to serve AA
in other lands-one board per country or language. The individual
described his objections to the approved German translation of AA's
Big Book, and he was encouraged to express his concerns to members of
the General Service Conference of AA in Germany .
Early in 1997, the Manager of Sweden's General Service Office called
our GSO to ask for an explanation and assistance regarding
"Swedish-language Big Books" delivered to local groups without notice
or explanation; AA in Sweden was confronted by a dilemma created from
outside the country. It was determined that the Swedish books were
printed in Germany by the same individual publishing and distributing
the unauthorized German translation of the Big Book, who also operated
a mail order book business.
Soon thereafter, we learned that the man had shipped an unauthorized
translation of the Finnish-language Big Book to groups in Finland.
Additionally, he began distribution of his translation of the Big Book
in Hebrew, again without permission or the consent of local AA groups
and/or service centers.
By summer 1997, AAWS determined that the General Service Board of AA
in Russia was able to begin publication and distribution of AA
literature in Russian-a huge step forward for the AA Fellowship in
Russia.  AAWS' Publications Director, accompanied by a Staff
member, traveled to Moscow in August 1997, for the express purpose of
conveying AAWS' license to the Russian Board to permit them to publish
and distribute the approved translation of the Russian-language Big
While in Moscow, the Publications Director and Staff member were
invited to participate in the 10th Anniversary Celebration of AA in
Russia. The individual printing AA literature without permission was
present; he attempted a confrontation with our representatives, who
declined to participate.
By October 1997, the General Service Board of AA in Russia was ready
to print and distribute 2,000 Russian Big Books. The Russian Board
contacted AAWS to express deep concern that someone had printed 50,000
copies of an unapproved translation of the Russian Big Book for
distribution in Russia and elsewhere. Quickly, it was learned that the
same individual who distributed unauthorized "AA literature" in other
countries had expanded distribution of "free" Big Books to Russia.
Catalogs describing the man's mail order book business, and offering
"AA literature" for sale, began appearing in mail directed to local
Russian AA groups.
Every effort urging the man to cease activities that fomented disunity
and disrupted Twelfth Step work supported by recognized AA service
centers was refused or ignored.
Up to this point, we had been confronted by only two situations of
copyright infringement that could not be resolved through
communication and negotiation. Those two instances directly abridged
licenses granted to the General Service Boards of AA in Mexico and
Germany, established service entities that possessed the resources to
protect our copyright(s) and their license.
AA in Finland, Russia, Sweden and Israel were not prepared to deal
with the assault on AA unity and services, as well as their licenses
to publish granted by AAWS.
The General Service Board of AA in Germany continued communications or
negotiations with the individual without resolution. In May 1997, the
German Board, with the knowledge of their General Service Conference,
filed a complaint with a German Court citing the defendant's illegal
activities, and, filed a separate request that the Court order the
defendant to cease and desist his activities. Those filings addressed
illegal publications of AA literature that abridged licenses granted
to the German Board.
Throughout, AAWS, our General Service Board, and the AA Grapevine
Board were informed of repeated efforts to reason with the individual.
In November 1997, Trustees of our General Service Board convened a
solemn session attended by Directors of the AAWS and Grapevine Boards,
and GSO and Grapevine staffs. The meeting was called to consider
unanimous resolutions adopted by AA World Services, Inc. on October
Resolved: That the AAWS Board recognizes its responsibility to
preserve and protect the copyrights held in trust for all of AA, both
here in US/Canada, and through-out the world. The AAWS Board further
recognizes that unchallenged infringement of our copyrighted
literature seriously impacts the future growth of AA overseas."
"Following adoption of the above resolution, the AAWS Board authorized
management, working with the board's legal advisor, the Chairpersons
of AAWS and General Service Boards, and such other persons as the
respective chairs might assign, to take such appropriate action,
including legal action, as may be necessary to meet the challenge."
The General Service Board endorsed both resolutions with complete
When all avenues of reason and/or negotiation had been exhausted, AA
World Services initiated legal proceedings in Germany that sought to
prevent further publication and distribution of unauthorized AA
literature. We prayed that the man would cease activities that
fomented misunderstanding and disunity.
The General Service Board explained the developments to the 48th
General Service Conference (1998). That practice was continued during
each succeeding General Service Conference, when the Chairman of the
General Service Board updated Conference members on progress of the
German Court's considerations. Throughout, Trustees and Directors were
kept informed. Past Chairmen of our Board, Jim Estelle and Gary Glynn,
provided guidance and insight; and, we continued to benefit by Past
Chairman Michael Alexander's wisdom and vast experience.
May 1999, the German Court of Common Pleas ruled for the plaintiffs,
the German Board and AAWS, finding that the defendant did not have
rights to publish German translations of the pamphlets "Too Young?"
and "It Happened to Alice," and the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The
following month, June 1999, the defendant appealed the Court's ruling
as it applied to the book Alcoholics Anonymous and Bill W's authorship
of the Big Book5, thus forcing a process that absorbed energy and
resources over four more years.
In October 2003, the Court of Appeals in Frankfurt decided matters in
favor of AA, represented by the German General Service Board and AAWS.
The defendant's claims were not allowed, and the Court required that
he cease producing/distributing Conference-approved books and
pamphlets in any language. The Court affirmed the validity of
copyrights held in trust by AAWS, and recognized Bill W. as author of
Alcoholics Anonymous, AA's Basic Text.
The Court ordered the defendant to turn over all "AA" books and
pamphlets that he printed and/or held as inventory; and, to provide
details on the reach and extent of his distribution system. The Court
decreed that the defendant must reimburse AAWS and AA in Germany for
legal expenses, including attorney fees.
Early in 2004, we and the German General Service Board offered the
defendant an opportunity to forgo reimbursement of legal costs and
fees provided the defendant does not publish or distribute
Conference-approved literature in any language or country, now or in
the future, and accepts all other stipulations in the Court's order.
The defendant has not responded to our offer. Therefore, we have asked
that remedies stipulated in the Court's final order of October 2003 be
fulfilled by the defendant.
While these matters were before the Court, we were constrained from
discussing relevant details. We promised past and present members of
the General Service Conference that we would report more fully when
the matter was concluded. Legal fees and related expenses over the
seven year period, 1998-2004, totaled $227,707.
Trustees, AAWS and Grapevine Directors have no sense of victory or
accomplishment. Throughout, we have applied ourselves to the
principles handed down to us and to you. We recognized and faced our
responsibilities to protect the integrity of Conference-approved
literature, and the AA message of hope handed down by Dr. Bob, Bill W.
and the early members.