Cher filed a lawsuit against Mary Bono, the widow of Cher’s former singing partner and ex-husband Sonny Bono, over the rights to Sonny & Cher’s songs, including hits like “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.”
In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday at a Los Angeles district court and obtained by Rolling Stone, Cher claims that Bono’s heirs have ceased paying her royalties on Sonny & Cher’s music, even though — as part of Cher and Bono’s 1978 divorce agreement — the singer was entitled to a 50% stake of their music.
While Cher (through her Veritas Trust) and the Bono heirs (through the Bono Collection Trust), were in partnership over the duo’s songs and publishing rights for the decades following Sonny Bono’s 1998 death in a skiing accident, that changed in recent years when Mary Bono allegedly attempted to use “a wholly inapplicable statutory termination provision of the Copyright Act of 1976” to terminate Cher’s 50% stake in the Sonny & Cher catalog.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, an author’s estate “may terminate the deceased author’s grant of a transfer or license of a renewal copyright or any right under it.” The Bono Collection Trust interpreted that language as a means to terminate the 1978 divorce agreement between Bono and Cher, according to the lawsuit.
“In or about September 2021, representatives of the Bono Collection Trust advised [Cher]’s representatives that the Bono Collection Trust contends that the Heirs’ notice of termination, by terminating grants to music publishers or other companies that have paid Royalties to the Bono Collection Trust, also terminates the stream of Composition Royalties that Sonny assigned to Plaintiff in the 1978 Marriage Settlement Agreement and, as a result, the Heirs’ statutory termination ends her right to those Royalties,” the lawsuit states. “Based on that contention, the Bono Collection Trust has advised [Cher] that upon the effective dates of the Heirs’ termination of each of the music publisher and other contracts, the Bono Collection Trust will no longer pay and account to [Cher] for her 50% ownership of the Composition Royalties that Sonny assigned to [Cher] in the Marriage Settlement Agreement as her share of their community property.”
Representatives for Cher and Mary Bono did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment at press time.
Cher seeks $1 million in the lawsuit, which she contends are the estimated royalties that the Bono heirs have withheld from her thus far. Cher’s lawsuit also aims to stop any attempt to terminate her 50% stake in the Sonny & Cher catalog.