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In some references, Desiderata is still thought to have been found at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore and dates back to 1692; however, it was apparently written by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945, and copyrighted by him in 1927. The copyright was renewed in 1954 by his widow Bertha K. Ehrmann.

There is considerable disagreement as to whether Desiderata is still copyrighted material or public domain. The Copyright Act requires a copyright notice on materials that one seeks to have protected (17 U.S.C. Section 10). Forfeiture occurs when the copyright holder authorizes general publication without the correct notice. In other words, no attribution (acknowledgement) of the copyright ownership. For example, if I allow a student or colleague to use my copyrighted photo image in their publication, it must include in the caption the proper attribution: © Wayne P. Armstrong (

In 1942, Ehrmann corresponded with Merrill Moore, a U.S. Army psychiatrist serving during World War II. Moore told Ehrmann that he had distributed an estimated 1,000 copies of Desiderata over the years while he was in civilian practice in Boston. Letters attest to the fact that Ehrmann gave permission for Moore to distribute copies of the poem to soldiers as part of their treatment. As late as 1944, Moore confirmed to Ehrmann that he continued to use the poem in his work in the South Pacific. Apparently, the correspondence between Moore and Ehrmann was credible evidence of a general publication authorized by the copyright holder. Permission to use the work was given gratuitously, and nowhere was a copyright or copyright notice mentioned. Ehrmann had therefore forfeited his right to have the copyright protected.

According to Wikipedia (accessed 12 September 2015): "In August 1971 the poem was published in Success Unlimited magazine, without permission from Robert L. Bell. In a 1976 lawsuit against the magazine's publisher, Combined Registry Company, the court ruled (and subsequently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld) that the copyright had been forfeited because the poem had been authorized for publication without a copyright notice in the 1940s - and that the poem was therefore in the public domain." This is referenced in Wikipedia under Desiderata. It is also summarized at

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