You know that “Footprints in the Sand” inspirational tidbit, about walking with the Lord, seeing only one set of footprints, and getting the revelation that “I carried you”? Of course you do. It’s everywhere, on posters, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and quoted in countless sermons. Now three people are suing each other, claiming to be the author, with rights to the gazillions of dollars worth of merchandising the little story can earn. For the rather sad but also rather humorous account of this dispute and these claims, see Search to Divine Authorship Leads ‘Footprints’ to Court.
Here is my analysis: One of the litigators claim that his mother wrote it decades ago. He found a manuscript in her handwriting that dates from long ago. But the key bit of information is the scholar who traced the story to a sermon preached in the 1880′s. I doubt that even that was original. Sermons promulgate more urban legends, unattributed quotations, and oral traditions than any other art form. I suspect the mother heard the story somewhere, maybe from her preacher, and wrote it down.
Trying to copyright that story after the fact and after its wide publication is surely futile, and no court should allow it. It’s like trying to copyright jokes, sermon illustrations, and internet forwards. If you write something, copyright it BEFORE sending it out on the internet; otherwise, consider it a gift to humanity.