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De Sylva v. Ballentine

351 U.S. 570, 76 S. Ct. 974, 100 L. Ed. 1415 (1956)

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De Sylva v. Ballentine

United States Supreme Court

351 U.S. 570, 76 S. Ct. 974, 100 L. Ed. 1415 (1956)

Facts

Marie De Sylva (defendant) was the widow of an author who had copyrights on several musical compositions. Marie Ballentine (plaintiff) was the mother of the author’s illegitimate child. Both Ballentine and De Sylva lived in California. Under § 24 of the Copyright Act (the act), copyrights lasted for 28 years and could be renewed for a second 28-year period. If the author of the copyrighted work was dead, the act provided that the widow, widower, or children of the author could renew the author’s copyrights. The act did not specify whether illegitimate children were considered children. Ballentine filed a lawsuit against De Sylva in federal district court seeking a declaratory judgment that Ballentine’s child had an interest in the author’s copyrights. The district court held that Ballentine’s child was a child of the author under copyright law but that the renewal rights to the copyrights belonged exclusively to De Sylva. In reaching its holding, the district court reasoned that the categories of persons who could have an interest in renewal rights—widows, widowers, or children—were specifically listed in the order that exclusive renewal rights should be granted. The court of appeals agreed that Ballentine’s child was a child of the author under the act and held that the child and De Sylva were to share their interest in the renewal rights. De Sylva appealed, arguing that Ballentine’s child was not a child of the author under the act because the child was illegitimate. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Harlan, J.)

Concurrence (Douglas, J.)

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