The D.A. Preamble

An excerpt from the 2012 Annual Debtors Anonymous World Service Conference 26th Annual Report. The conference was held in Seattle, Washington from August 15-19, 2012.

If you've read the D.A. Focus in recent months, you've noticed that Debtors Anonymous no 1onger has the legal right to use the D.A. Preamble, which is adopted from the preamble used by Alcoholics Anonymous. For the first time in our history, we began this World Service Conference without a reading of the Preamble. We were shocked and dismayed to learn earlier this year that the legal permission we believed we had had for the Preamble for many years did not, in fact, exist. And this comes on top of an incident last year when we discovered that a paragraph in one of our pamphlets had been taken without permission from A.A. many years ago.

What is going on here? Why are these things happening, and what are the implications for D.A.? Most importantly, what are we going to do about it?

First, you should know that the loss of the Preamble and the need to remove a paragraph from the Debtors Anonymous pamphlet do not in any way threaten our right to use the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of A.A., as adapted for D.A. use. We remain, and will always remain, a Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition Program. We have clear legal permission to use and adapt the Steps and Traditions. And we also have the requisite permissions to use most of the other intellectual property we have adapted from A.A.

We have made amends to A.A., we are working closely with A.A. to resolve the situation, and we will be working on creating a new Preamble that will serve the D.A. fellowship well.

But as the Board has conducted a comprehensive review of how this happened and how we have related in the past to A.A. and other 12-Step programs and their intellectual property, we've come to some disturbing conclusions. To be blunt, plagiarism and the theft of other peoples' intellectual property are rampant in D.A. Some of our publications in the past have contained articles blatantly plagiarized, used without permission, from other individuals or programs. On several occasions in the past, committees of this Conference have submitted for approval as D.A. literature material taken from other Fellowships without permission. And just this year, we've had an epidemic of GSR from past Conferences stealing confidential D.A. contact information and using it to spam members and promote their own businesses.

We are a program of healing and light, but we continue to have a dark side. We are committed to solvency and honesty, but when it comes to intellectual property, there still exists among us a subculture in which many members believe it is permissible to take other people's stuff, or to look the other way when others do it.

I want to be clear about this: words like plagiarism and theft are very strong language, but unfortunately, they do fit in some of the cases we are talking about. I also want to be clear that we are not looking to take punitive action, or to recriminate.

Much of the misuse of intellectual property in D.A. has come from honest intentions. Some of the problems we've had with permissions for A.A. literature date back as far as the 1980s, when things were done in an informal way, and for which agreements were made with a handshake and no written records were kept. In addition, many D.A. members are members of other Twelve-Step programs and believe they have the right to use the literature of those Fellowships in D.A., even when it is not legally permissible.

But too many debtors go farther. It's often said that debtors not only spend other people's money, but other peoples' time and energy and ideas as well. There are clearly some in D.A. who believe that other peoples' intellectual property is ours to use, regardless of whether it is legal or ethical or not.

And so, what are we going to do about all this?

Once again, we have no desire to punish. But we do have a desire to change, and change we must.

On the part of the General Service Board, we have embarked in the past few years on a mission to ensure that not only is our intellectual property protected, but that we are absolutely committed to respecting the intellectual property rights of others. We have devoted substantial resources in the areas of copyright and intellectual property law to ensure thatwe are living up to legal and spiritual principles. We have cleaned up the wreckage of the past. Indeed, it is because of that commitment to do things correctly that we have uncovered some of the problems that originated in the past.

How can D.A. members and groups participate in the solution?

Those who write for D.A. publications can submit articles in their own words, not works taken without permission from books, newspapers, and magazines, or the Internet.

Committees of this Conference can exercise due diligence and make sure that when they submit literature or electronic products for D.A. Conference approval, that the material is original material, and not material taken without permission from other fellowships, with the letters "A.A." erased, and the letters "D.A." inserted in their place.

GSRs at this Conference can make a commitment not to betray their hard-working fellow delegates by taking contact information marked "Confidential" and "For D.A. use only" and using it to spam others and promote commercial enterprises or social causes.

We need to clean up our act. We need on every level-individual, group, Intergroup, and World Service-to be absolutely diligent in every way about not taking and using other people's property. But getting legal and ethical is just the beginning. We need not just to follow the law, but to follow the deepest promptings of our souls as to who and what we are as debtors, as well.

The loss of the D.A. Preamble was a wakeup call. When it first happened, members of our Board were devastated, because the Preamble has been such an important part of our lives for so long. We've heard it read hundreds of times at meetings, and we couldn't imagine D.A. without it.

But as the shock faded, we began to understand that this might be a great blessing, a blessing in disguise. This might force us to look, for the first time, at who we actually are, and what we actually are about.

Year after year, we receive agonized questions from our members as to who and what D.A. really is. And maybe that's no surprise, given that much of the literature that describes our program actually comes from other recovery programs, with just a handful of changes to insert the words "compulsive debtor" and "D.A." Reading our literature and some of the readings we use at meetings, people sometimes get the impression that we are some sort of pale second- or third-rate imitation of another Twelve-Step program, with just enough words changed to make it legal.

And it's time for that to stop, as well as the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

It's time for us to start talking about who and what we really are here in D.A. As great as Alcoholics Anonymous is, we are not just a warmed-over version of A.A., or anybody else. While we share the greatest spiritual program the world has ever known, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, with more than 300 other fellowships, we as compulsive debtors have so much that is unique to our disease, our program, and our recovery.

We are not second-class citizens in the Twelve Step world. We in Debtors Anonymous have a recovery program that is second to none, a program of miracles that has transformed our lives in the most amazing and beautiful ways. And we need to start telling the world about it in our own language, not somebody else's.

The General Service Board is asking our entire fellowship, during this, our 37th year, to join in the process of creating a new statement of who and what D.A. is. We're not even sure at this point whether to call it a Preamble, a Mission Statement, or a Statement of Purpose. We're asking every member, every group, every Intergroup, every committee of this Conference, to think about who we are, and, if inspired, to share in words that are uniquely D.A. how we can express that, and how we can carry the D.A. message to a world so badly in need of it.

In the year ahead, we'll be updating you on the legal status of our intellectual property, and we'll be sharing with you, through the eNews and the D.A. Focus, the ideas contributed by all of us, and the way we're creating something that will replace our old Preamble.

The founder of Debtors Anonymous, John H., used to say that beneath the money, the real purpose of D.A. was to help its members become who they really are and to do what they were truly created to do. Many of us have found exactly that in our own recoveries. And now, it is time for all of us to find that collectively, to reach deep into our souls, and to find the words that describe to the world what our Beloved Fellowship of Debtors Anonymous really is, and what it was truly created to do.

Thank you.

Jan S., Chairperson GSB, 2010-2012