DeSylva v. Ballentine,
351 U.S. 570 (1956)

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U.S. Supreme Court

DeSylva v. Ballentine, 351 U.S. 570 (1956)

DeSylva v. Ballentine

No. 529

Argued April 25-26, 1956

Decided June 11, 1956

351 U.S. 570


The Copyright Act grants to the author, "or the widow, widower, or children of the author, if the author be not living," the right of renewal of a copyright for a further 28-year term after the expiration of the original 28-year term.


1. After the author's death, the widow and children of the author succeed to the right of renewal as a class, and are each entitled to share in the renewal term of the copyright. Pp. 351 U. S. 573-580.

2. In the instant case, an illegitimate child of the author, who under the applicable state law would be an heir of the author, is within the term "children." Pp. 351 U. S. 580-582.

(a) While the scope of a federal right is a federal question, its content may yet be determined by state, rather than federal, law, especially where the law of domestic relations is concerned. P. 351 U. S. 580.

(b) Whether an illegitimate child is within the term "children," as used in this provision of the Act, is to be determined by whether, under state law, the child would be an heir of the author. Pp. 351 U. S. 580-581.

(c) In the instant case, the only State concerned is California, and the question is to be determined with reference to the law of that State. P. 351 U. S. 581.

(d) Under § 255 of the California Probate Code, an illegitimate child who is acknowledged by his father, by a writing signed in the presence of a witness, is entitled to inherit his father's estate as well as his mother's (although he may not be legitimate for all purposes), and that is sufficient for the purposes of the copyright Act. Pp. 351 U. S. 581-582.

226 F.2d 623 affirmed.

Page 351 U. S. 571

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