The dispute between Cher and Sonny Bono’s estate over copyright royalties continued this week in California. As previously reported in zoom-in, Cher commenced proceedings last October against Sonny’s fourth wife and widow Mary Bono, both individually and in her capacity as trustee of the Bono Collection Trust.

Sonny and Cher began performing together in 1964 and recorded hit songs like I Got You Babe, The Beat Goes On, Baby Don’t Go, Little Man and Bang. The pair married in 1967 but divorced a decade later – signing a settlement agreement in which Sonny irrevocably assigned Cher fifty percent of their rights in musical composition royalties, record royalties and other assets. Sonny died in a skiing accident in 1998.

Cher says that the settlement agreement had been honoured since 1978, but that legal action became necessary “more than forty years later” when the Bono Collection Trust advised it would stop paying her fifty percent of the royalties. Cher is seeking a declaration from the court that she remains entitled to this share, as well as $USD1 million damages for breach of contract.

Section 304(c) of the US Copyright Act 1976 allows the widow, widower or children of a deceased author to terminate the deceased author’s grant of copyright. Pursuant to this, in 2016, a group of Sonny’s heirs (through the Bono Collection Trust)issued a notice of termination to various music publishers and other companies to whom Sonny had granted a transfer or license of copyright. The Trust contends that this also ended Cher’s right to those royalties.

Cher is arguing that the notice could not have terminated the divorce settlement agreement, including its assignment to her of fifty percent of the royalties because the Copyright Act states that termination of a grant only affects rights covered by the grant, and not rights arising under any other Federal, State or foreign laws.

In December, Mary Bono and the Trust moved to dismiss Cher’s claim, arguing that their right to terminate grants pursuant to the Federal Copyright Act trumped Cher’s rights under State law. The motion was heard this week and the parties are due to make further submissions in two weeks.