Alcoholics Anonymous sues to recover original manuscript

(Reuters) - The original manuscript that became the basis for Alcoholics Anonymous is the subject of a new lawsuit by the organization, which wants to reclaim it before it can be auctioned next month.

According to a complaint filed in New York on Monday, the working draft for AA’s basic text, known as the Big Book and describing the famous 12-step program to help people stop drinking and stay sober, is scheduled to be auctioned on June 8 by Profiles in History in Calabasas, California.

But the plaintiff Alcoholics Anonymous World Services said the seller, Ken Roberts, had no right to consign the manuscript because it had been gifted to AA in 1979, though because of the “extreme negligence” of others was never turned over.

AA said it learned about the gift in 2007, three months after Roberts bought the manuscript for $992,000 at Sotheby’s, and sued after he refused its demand to turn over the manuscript rather than sell it.

Profiles in History has estimated that the manuscript could fetch $2 million to $3 million.

The lawsuit filed in a state court in Manhattan names the auction house, Roberts and QuestRoyal Fine Art, a New York gallery that displayed the manuscript this month, as defendants.

“The manuscript is an original, historical document of unique importance to AAWS, and undeniably is a critical piece of its history,” and the defendants “are wrongfully detaining the manuscript for their own pecuniary gain,” the complaint said.

Roberts and a spokeswoman for Profiles in History did not immediately respond to requests for comment. QuestRoyal declined to comment.

The Big Book, also known as “Alcoholics Anonymous,” was written mainly by AA co-founder William Wilson, better known as “Bill W.”

First published in 1939, it is in its fourth edition and has sold more than 30 million copies, according to AA’s website. The group has more than 2.1 million individual members.

AA said Bill W.’s widow inherited the original manuscript after his 1971 death, and gifted it to Barry Leach in 1978, who the following year gifted it back to AA upon his death, which occurred in 1985.

The case is Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc v Roberts et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 652676/2017.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang