Cher continues to battle out a legal debate with Sonny Bono’s widow, Mary Bono, as Bono tries to challenge Cher and Sonny’s 1978 divorce agreement citing federal copyright laws. Cher’s lawsuit against the widow states that Bono owes the “Believe” singer a million dollars in unpaid royalties for Sonny & Cher songs.
U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt heard arguments from Cher’s lawyer, Peter J. Anderson, and Bono’s lawyer, Daniel J. Schacht. However the Judge determined that the royalties hinge on a narrow provision of federal copyright law.
According to Reuters, Cher filed the original lawsuit in 2021 where she claimed that Bono’s estate, which is currently owned by Mary Bono, tried to legally terminate her rights to Sonny & Cher royalties. However Mary, in her dismissal motion paper, wrote that “Sonny could grant Cher his then-current rights, including a 50% royalty interest in his copyrights. Sonny could not, however, have signed away his heirs’ future rights of termination. The heirs’ right to terminate under the Copyright Act preempts Cher’s state law breach of contract claim. Therefore, her claim fails.”
Though Mary is the only named defendant in the case, the decision will ultimately impact all of Sonny’s children including Chaz Bono, Cher’s only child with Sonny, as well as Chesare Bono, Chianna Bono and Christy Bono.
“The heirs are not strangers. They succeeded to Sonny’s rights under a contract that said that his rights were subject to the obligations that he had undertaken (in) the marital settlement agreement. So the idea that they’re free to do anything they want is not what was contemplated by the Copyright Act because it specifically excludes state rights and specifically limits termination to grants of copyright. Royalty rights are not rights under the Copyright Act,” Peter J. Anderson argued for Cher.
The Judge refused to dismiss the case and in March 2023 Billboard reported on the judge’s initial decision. In his decision Judge Kronstadt stated that the recording rights of songs might be entitled to Mary alone but that Cher would be entitled to compensation from the underlying musical compositions.
“The composition royalties appear to arise solely from the [divorce settlement],” the judge wrote. “On this record, it has not presently been established that [Cher]’s rights to the composition royalties have been terminated.”