Cher Seeks Judicial Relief Against Sonny Bono’s Widow

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10012822cc)
Cher onstage during the curtain call for “The Cher Show” Broadway musical opening night at the Neil Simon Theatre, in New York
“The Cher Show” Broadway Opening Night, New York, USA – 03 Dec 2018

On October 13, 2021, Cher brought suit in the United States District Court of the Central District of California against Sonny Bono’s widow, seeking a declaration that she is entitled to 50% of the royalties from the musical compositions recorded by Sonny & Cher. Sonny and Cher were married until 1978. Following their divorce, the two signed an agreement granting Cher 50% ownership of the musical composition royalties and record royalties associated with the “Sonny & Cher” recordings. In addition, the agreement also included 50% of the royalties from the music acquired by or written by Sonny prior to their divorce and approval rights with respect to third-party agreements. Sonny Bono’s fourth wife and widow, Mary Bono, attempted to terminate Cher’s rights to these royalties pursuant to section 304(c) of the Copyright Act.

Mary Bono is the heir of Sonny’s estate; she inherited 50% of the royalties from the recordings in question, and Cher is entitled to keep the other 50%. However, in 2016, pursuant to Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act of 1976, Mary Bono sent termination letters to Cher and multiple music publishers that Sonny had previously granted rights to. Section 304(c) provides that “a deceased author’s widow or widower and surviving children may terminate the deceased author’s grant of a transfer or license of a renewal copyright.” Therefore, Mary Bono contends that the termination agreement strips Cher of many of her rights under the agreement that Sonny and Cher signed after their divorce.

Cher is seeking declaratory relief that “even if the 2016 termination agreement is valid and effective, it could not have legally terminated the 1978 marriage settlement agreement between Cher and Sonny Bono and her rights outlined in the agreement.” Cher alleges that the Marriage Settlement Agreement outlined her rights to the Musical Composition and Royalties as community property; because the Marriage Settlement Agreement was not a grant of renewal copyrights, and instead arose under California state law, it is not subject to section 304 termination.

Furthermore, Cher filed a second claim for breach of contract. She alleges that she has performed all of her obligations under the marriage settlement agreement, and Defendants have breached the contract in many ways, including refusing to pay Cher and depriving her of approval rights.

Cher is represented by Peter Anderson, Sean M. Sullivan, and Eric H. Lamm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

Counsel information for Mary Bono was not immediately available.

The case is Cher v. Mary Bono, case number 2:21-cv-08157, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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