Cher’s legal battle with Sonny Bono’s widow is heating up, with Mary Bono arguing that the legendary singer should not be allowed to claim that her divorce agreement trumps important provisions of federal copyright law.
Cher sued Mary Bono last month, seeking to block her from taking control of Sonny’s music. The case is one of several closely-watched music lawsuits over copyright law’s “termination right” — a provision that allows creators or their heirs to win back control of rights they signed away decades prior.
On Wednesday (Dec. 9), Mary Bono moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Cher’s lawsuit was essentially trying to argue that her divorce agreement with Sonny was more powerful than a law passed by the U.S. Congress.
“Cher’s position would subvert Congress’ intent in enacting the copyright termination provisions: to ensure that authors and authors’ heirs, not grantees or ex-spouses, would benefit from the extended term of copyright,” Bono’s attorneys wrote.
Cher’s case is one of several pending industry fights over terminations. Two pending class actions filed by artists are seeking to regain control of masters owned by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. KC & the Sunshine Band and 2 Live Crew are fighting similar cases, too.
Sonny and Cher started performing together in 1964 and married in 1967, rising to fame with major hits like “I Got You Babe” and “Bang Bang.” But the pair split up in 1975, finalizing their divorce with a settlement agreement in 1978. Bono died in 1998 as the result of skiing accident.
Under the terms of that divorce deal, Cher says she was assigned a 50% share of “their rights in musical composition royalties, record royalties, and other assets,” throughout the world and in perpetuity.
That arrangement continued until recently, when Mary Bono’s representatives notified Cher that they had invoked the termination right and would soon stop paying out royalties. Cher sued last month, arguing the provision simply does not apply to her 1978 divorce agreement with Sonny.
“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, Sonny’s fourth wife and widow … claims that a wholly inapplicable statutory termination provision … has undone plaintiff’s ownership of her royalties from the songs and recordings that she and Sonny made famous during their marriage,” Cher’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
An attorney for Cher did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. A formal response filing from Cher is due in several weeks.