Copyright Infringement Litigation History
As fully described in the Appendix to Desiderata The Book, in the mid to late 1960s, several events coalesced leading to the widespread distribution of "Desiderata" without proper author attribution and without the distributors obtaining a license from "Desiderata's" copyright owner (a corporation to whom Ehrmann's widow's heirs had conveyed the copyright). Believing that "Desiderata" was written in 1692 by an anonymous author and capitalizing on the political events and social movements of the time, distributors printed "Desiderata" on cheap posters and sold hundreds of thousands of them, ultimately leading to two lawsuits in federal district court for copyright infringement.
In the first such lawsuit against an alleged distributor infringer, the corporate owner of the "Desiderata" copyright received an injunction against further infringement and money damages from the corporate defendant, thereby seemingly validating the copyright. But in a second such lawsuit, another federal court invalidated the "Desiderata" copyright and placed "Desiderata" in the public domain because of certain actions and inactions by Max Ehrmann himself that had the effect of forfeiting the copyright. A federal appeals court upheld that decision, laying to rest "Desiderata's" copyright status; it had none. The Appendix to Desiderata The Book details this entire history.