Cher has sued the former Republican California congresswoman Mary Bono, the widow of her former singing partner and ex-husband, Sonny Bono, over the rights to songs created when the singer was part of the star duo Sonny & Cher.
The 75-year-old singer filed the lawsuit on Wednesday against Mary Bono, a trustee of the Bono Collection Trust, accusing her and Bono’s estate of withholding her share of royalties to Sonny & Cher songs, as well as other assets from Cher’s marriage to Sonny.
Cher and Sonny Bono began performing together as Sonny & Cher in 1964, married three years later and then divorced in 1978. During the duo’s performing years, they created worldwide hits including I Got You Babe, The Beat Goes On, and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).
According to the legal complaint: “When they divorced, Plaintiff and Sonny agreed to an equal division of their community property, and, to that end, in 1978, Sonny irrevocably assigned to Plaintiff, as her sole and separate property throughout the world and in perpetuity, fifty percent of their rights in musical composition royalties, record royalties, and other assets.”
Cher now alleges that Mary Bono is attempting to undo that agreement and deny her rights under the agreement.
“This action has become necessary because now, more than forty years after Plaintiff received her fifty percent ownership of her and Sonny’s community property...Mary Bono … has undone Plaintiff’s ownership of her royalties from the songs and recordings that she and Sonny made famous during their marriage,” the complaint said.
Under the Copyright Act, authors can cancel transfers of their copyrights and reclaim them after 35 years in certain circumstances. According to the complaint, the Bono Collection Trust claimed that its 2016 notices of termination to several music publishers also ended Cher’s royalty rights.
Cher said the trust told her last month that it would stop paying her share of the royalties when the terminations go into effect, and that she no longer had the right to approve uses of their songs, among other actions.
In addition to seeking $1m in damages, the singer is asking a judge to enforce the 1978 divorce settlement terms that equally split her and Bono’s royalties.