Getting AA literature translated

Copyright and translations of AA literature


A presentation by: Doug R., Director of Staff Services, GSO, New York,
at the Asia Oceania Service Meeting in Chandigarh, India, July 24, 2011 

 My name is Doug R., an alcoholic who is grateful to have found sobriety in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am deeply honored to be the Director of Staff Services at the General Service Office (G.S.O.) in New York, serving the A.A. groups in U.S. and Canada. As members and representatives of AA in your countries, you inspire me and others to participate in sharing A.A.’s solution for the malady of alcoholism and to extend the hand of hope to the alcoholic who still suffers.

Members of our General Service Board, A.A. World Services and Grapevine Boards, as well as Staff and employees of G.S.O. and the Grapevine office extend deep gratitude to each of you for service dedicated to A.A.’s primary purpose—carrying our message to each alcoholic who seeks our help. Your service is given freely without expectation of personal recognition, a principle by which Alcoholics Anonymous has spread across the world as a beacon of hope for despairing alcoholics.

I’ve been asked to share on a subject vital to each of us— A.A. literature and translations of books and pamphlets that contain the fundamentals of how A.A. works to lead people like you and me to sobriety and the importance of copyrights and proper licensing A.A.’s beloved co-founder, Bill W., who often called the influence of A.A. literature “incalculable,” wrote the following in May 1964:”Suppose, for instance, that during the last twenty-five years A.A. had never published any basic literature…no books, no pamphlets. We need little imagination to see that by now our message would be hopelessly garbled.

“Our relations with medicine and religion would have become a shamble. To alcoholics…we would today be a joke and the public would have thought us a riddle. Without its literature, A.A. would certainly have bogged down in a welter of controversy and disunity.”

In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, as it is in the present, the A.A. message of recovery from alcoholism was carried by one alcoholic talking to another – one human being to another. However, since 1939 and the publication of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, our literature has played an important role in spreading A.A.’s message worldwide.

By imparting information about A.A. and its Twelve Steps, A.A. literature truly helps to widen the door of hope and recovery from alcoholism – a new or potential member walking into an A.A. meeting for the first time or an alcoholic reaching out for help may be given some basic A.A. literature along with local A.A. meeting information. Today, our Big Book is available in 62 languages and there is an assortment of other A.A. books and pamphlets that have been translated or are in progress.

A.A. World Services, Inc. (A.A.W.S.) holds more than 700 copyrights on A.A. literature, including the Big Book—copyrights held in trust for A.A. as a whole. Translations of A.A. literature are an essential service facilitated, in part, through the generous assistance of the International Literature Assistance Fund established by the World Service Meeting.

Translations come about in two ways: (1) Occasionally, professionals or A.A. groups in countries where A.A. is new ask that we translate a basic book or pamphlet for their use, and (2) More frequently, bilingual local members where A.A. has taken root begin translating A.A. materials such as the Preamble, The Twelve Steps, The Twelve Traditions and other recovery literature. Eventually, local A.A. groups and/or boards move on to larger projects, such as the Big Book or Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Before anyone—A.A. group, board or member—begins translating A.A.’s copyrighted literature, they must first request permission to translate by contacting the Publications Department in G.S.O., New York. On receipt of a request for permission to translate an A.A. title, our Publications Department usually asks that a translation of the pamphlet or a few chapters of the book be submitted for review. The proposed new translation is checked by professionals to assure clarity and adherence to the sense and spirit of the original English work.

It is always best to follow this method before applying effort to a translation which may not be acceptable in the long run. If the translation does not adequately reflect the original material or is of uneven quality, the A.A.W.S. Board will consider authorizing that the work be done through our professional translators. Accuracy and integrity are especially important for translations of Bill W’s writings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, as well as other works by Bill W. Each translation should reflect the tone and spirit of Bill’s original work.

At times, it’s difficult for A.A. members who read a translation in another language to accept some of the terms or words written that may seem out-dated or irrelevant. Our General Service Conference, which represents the group conscience of A.A. in U.S. and Canada established the policy that the basic text of the Big Book, as well as the text of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions remain as written by Bill W. The policy governs our approach to each translation of Bill’s works—we strive for each translation to reflect the original text as closely as possible.

Now, concerning the publishing of A.A. literature, I want to convey the importance placed on licensing and copyright protection of A.A. literature. As you may be aware, A.A. World Services, Inc. has been assigned the operational responsibility for preserving and protecting literature, a valuable Fellowship resource.

A.A. literature conveys the A.A. message – a message always feely given. Infringement or misuse of our literature, even within the Fellowship, might lead to a great deal of confusion particularly with our friends outside the Fellowship and more importantly with the newcomer; our copyright interest might be diluted and the precious A.A. message of recovery might be distorted.

For the these reasons, A.A.W.S. through the G.S.O. has established procedures for licensing and copyright protection of A.A. literature Before an approved translation is published, a license to publish the A.A. book or pamphlet is granted, and we furnish the licensee with the Copyright Notice to be printed in the new publication.

This assures that all necessary permission requirements are in place and prevents problems with the Copyright protection afforded the translated A.A. book, pamphlet or other material. We understand that translations are more an art than a science. Several translators may choose different words or terminology to express the original concept, and each translator is convinced that his or her interpretation is most accurate. The final decision rests with the group conscience of A.A. in each country, often delegated to a Translations Committee. A.A.W.S. grants only one license per country or structure, and always abides by the group conscience.



A.A.W.S. is the owner of the copyrights in most of the world on Bill W.’s writings, as well as copyrights on literature approved by the General Service Conference of the U.S. and Canada. The A.A.W.S. Board is responsible for licensing service structures outside of the U.S. and Canada, and for reviewing and/or granting permission to translate and publish copyrighted material.

Earlier I mentioned that A.A.W.S. currently holds more than 700 copyrights on A.A. literature, including literature published by other General Service Offices and license holders who assign copyrights to A.A.W.S. Each copyright is held in trust by A.A.W.S. for the worldwide A.A. Fellowship.

Over the years, A.A.W.S. has safeguarded A.A.’s copyrighted material to protect the integrity of the A.A. message. Since the time that service structures outside of Canada/U.S. were first licensed to publish copyrighted literature, the policy has been to grant exclusive license(s) to one established service entity per country or service structure. The policy is based on the need to insure accuracy of approved translations, and to assist newer General Service Structures to achieve unity and provide services to A.A. groups in their respective lands.

The policy of granting an exclusive license to one service entity/board/committee (the licensee) per structure or country authorizes the licensee to protect the copyright and license in their country. Prior to 1986 the licensing policy was less formal and occasionally inconsistent. Since that time our General Service Conference and the World Service Meeting have affirmed the policy on several occasions.

It is critical that any board/office/committee intending to translate a copyrighted work provide completed forms to A.A.W.S. in care of our Publications Department.

A License agreement is good for ten years, after which a new agreement needs to be executed. Additionally, a License agreement needs to be renewed each time an approved translation is updated, revised or reprinted. The copyright notice contained in reprints or revised translations should contain the date of the original copyright rather than the date of reprint or revision.

Assuring that these agreements are in order is critical to protect the integrity of the A.A. message, and to the development of A.A. structures in unity. We are available to assist you with these procedures, and encourage everyone contemplating or working on translations of A.A. literature to contact our Publications Department, the agent for A.A.W.S.

We ask current license holders to appraise us of all changes and/or reprints as each change needs to be filed on our behalf. Updated registrations also need to be filed in your country. Recently, A.A.W.S. began granting permission to General Service Offices and other A.A. Service entities the opportunity to post translated literature on their Web sites, with the exception of English, French and Spanish titles, which we post.

The license agreement now includes a section that may be used to request permission to post a translation on the Web site. For licenses granted prior to 2004, the A.A. entity/License holder can write to our. Publications Director indicating their wish to post translated literature on the Web. An amendment to the original license will be prepared unless the subject translation is already available on the Web. Each translation must be licensed for posting on the World Wide Web; we cannot grant broad or unlimited permission.

I trust that we agree on the immense importance of translations to our primary purpose. I am confident that you will join in making certain that the process is carried out as described today. Thus we come together in the spirit of love and service to protect the integrity of A.A.’s message in print and to preserve the unity of our beloved Fellowship. With gratitude, Doug Richardson Director of Staff Services GSO New York

A list of translated AA literature can be found in the AA Literature Catalog at:
Also, pamphlets and banners in Fijian, Samoan and Solomon Islands Pijin are
available from the Australian General Service Office at:





Requesting Literature Translations — An Overview


1. To begin translation of literature copyrighted by A.A.W.S., first complete in duplicate the form, Request for License to Translate and/or Reproduce and Distribute Copyrighted Work, and send original and duplicate to our Publications Department, at the address shown below.

2. When the request has been approved, the A.A. entity (board/office/committee) will be notified and asked to proceed as described in the following steps.

3. A few translated chapters of the A.A. book or pamphlet must be submitted to our Publications Department along with the completed form, Assignment of Copyright. We will have the translated manuscript checked for accuracy and integrity.

4. The professional assessment of the proposed translation will be returned, along with any suggestions for improvement. If necessary, the corrected manuscript will be reviewed again.

5. Once an acceptable version of the translation is received by our Publications Department, an executed License Agreement will be issued.

6. On behalf of A.A.W.S., we provide a copyright notice page exactly as it is to be printed in the translation approved for publication, and described in the License Agreement. 1. As soon as an approved translation is published,A.A.W.S., in care of our Publications Department, should be sent three copies of the licensed work, as well as the date translation was completed and the publication date, as described in the License Agreement. For translation information, permission to translate, renew licenses, web postings, please contact: The Publications Director, General Service Office, 11th floor 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115. Phone (212) 870-3052      email:

More information on this matter can be found on the AA website at: