Cher sues Sonny Bono’s widow over song royalties

LOS ANGELES — The beat goes on -- in court.

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Cher has filed a lawsuit against the widow of Sonny Bono over the rights to royalties for Sonny & Cher’s songs, including “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.”

The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the singer in a Los Angeles district court, alleges that former Rep. Mary Bono, the widow of Cher’s former singing partner and ex-husband, stopped paying royalties on Sonny & Cher’s music, Rolling Stone reported.

Cher,76, is seeking $1 million, which she said constitutes the estimated royalties that the Bono heirs have withheld from her so far, the magazine reported. Cher’s lawsuit also is attempting to stop any attempt to end her 50% stake in the Sonny & Cher catalog.

The lawsuit alleges that Mary Bono and other defendants have attempted to terminate portions of business agreements Cher and Sonny Bono reached when they divorced in 1975, according to The Associated Press. The agreement entitled each party to 50% of songwriting and recording royalties.

Cher began performing with Sonny Bono in 1964, and they were married from 1967 to 1975, according to the AP. They later had a variety television show, “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” which ran from 1971 to 1974.

Sonny Bono died in 1998 in a skiing accident in Lake Tahoe. He had been mayor of Palm Springs, California, and later was a congressman for the area. Mary Bono won Sonny Bono’s seat after his death.

Cher went on to a successful solo career singing and won an Academy Award for best actress in the 1987 film “Moonstruck.” She also appeared in 1983′s “Silkwood,” 1985′s “Mask” and 1987′s “The Witches of Eastwick.”

While Cher and the Bono heirs were in partnership over the duo’s songs and publishing rights for decades that changed in 2016 when Mary Bono allegedly attempted to use “a wholly inapplicable statutory termination provision of the Copyright Act of 1976″ to end Cher’s stake in the Sonny & Cher catalog, E! Online reported.

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,” Rolling Stone reported. The Bono Collection Trust, consisting of Mary Bono and the Bono heirs, interpreted the act’s language as a way to terminate the 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.”

Mary Bono’s attorney said the family’s moves are within their rights, the AP reported.

“The Copyright Act allows Sonny’s widow and children to reclaim Sonny’s copyrights from publishers, which is what they did,” attorney Daniel Schacht said in a statement. “Rep. Bono remains open to continuing a private discussion about this, but we are confident that, if necessary, the court will affirm their position.”

Cher is represented by Peter Anderson at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, according to Billboard. Anderson has defended The Weeknd in high-profile copyright lawsuits and won the “Stairway To Heaven” case on behalf of the members of Led Zeppelin, the website reported.