Cher in $1 million copyright battle with ex-husband Sonny Bono's widow

26 April 2022, 15:49 | Updated: 22 February 2023, 16:15

Cher and the cast of The Cher Show perform 'I've Got You Babe'

By Mayer Nissim

Cher claims she is owed royalties for songs including 'I Got You Babe'.

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Cher has claimed that Sonny Bono's widow Mary owes her $1 million (£786,000) in unpaid royalties for songs.

The claim had its first major hearing in court on Monday (April 25), Rolling Stone reports.

The dispute covers songs recorded by Sonny & Cher during their musical partnership, including hits like 'I Got You Babe'.

Sonny and Cher signed a divorce settlement in 1978, and Sonny's fourth wife Mary has argued that copyright law allows her to terminate the 50% right to royalties that Sonny Bono agreed to hand over to Cher as part of that agreement.

Mary argues that the 50% stake has effectively "expired", with those rights now going back to Sonny's heirs.

Sonny & Cher "I Got You Babe" on The Ed Sullivan Show

She adds that while Sonny had the right to give his then-current rights to Cher, he was never able to sign away his heirs' future rights of termination.

During the hearing, US District Judge John A. Kronstadt heard arguments on Mary Bono's pending motion to dismiss Cher's lawsuit.

The dispute centres on whether Mary has the right to use the federal Copyright Act, which allows artists and their heir to terminate and recapture rights to intellectual property like songs after a certain number of years.

Sonny and Cher
Sonny and Cher. Picture: Alamy

Cher's lawyers argue that it wouldn't be fair or right to say the provisions of the Copyright Act cover or overrule the divorce settlement.

"The heirs are not strangers," said Peter J Anderson.

"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."

Sonny & Cher reunite for the last time to sing 'I Got You Babe' on Letterman (1987)

Sonny and Cher were married from 1969 to 1975.

After his music career, Sonny became a politician, with stints as a mayor of Palm Springs and then a congressman in California, before his death in 1998 in a skiing accident.

Despite their marital issues and divorce, Cher delivered an emotional eulogy at his funeral, calling Sonny "the most unforgettable character" she had met.