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In the latest salvo in a dispute over the copyright ownership of Sonny and Cher hits such as ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ and ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’, Sonny’s widow, former Republican California congresswoman Mary Bono, is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit brought by living legend, Cher.

The superstar brought the legal action in California after receiving notice from the Bono Collection Trust, of which Mary Bono is chair, that it was seeking to terminate her rights and would stop paying her royalties. The Trust and Mary Bono are relying on the US federal Copyright Act, which allows authors of copyright works, or their heirs, to terminate transfers of copyright and reclaim their rights after 35 years. A number of artists have recently sought to exercise their termination rights against record companies which had control of their works. Sonny Bono tragically died in a skiing accident in South Lake Tahoe California in 1998, leaving his fourth wife Mary and his children as his heirs.

Sonny and Cher agreed to an equal division of their property when they divorced in 1978, as part of which Sonny assigned to Cher 50% of the rights in their musical composition and record royalties throughout the world and in perpetuity. Cher’s position is that this takes them outside the scope of the Copyright Act, and in seeking to terminate Cher’s rights Mary Bono is in breach of contract.

Mary Bono is seeking to dismiss Cher’s claim, arguing that the contractual arrangement after Sonny and Cher’s divorce does not trump the federal Copyright Act. Whilst Sonny could assign his rights in 1978, they say ‘Sonny could not, however, have signed away his heirs’ future rights of termination.’ Mary Bono’s legal motion also says that Cher will need to name as defendants and sue Sonny’s other heirs, his children Chesare, Chianna, Christy and Chaz. Chaz is Sonny and Cher’s only child together.

The court will need to decide whether the post-divorce contractual settlement or the Copyright Act apply. The royalties in play are said to amount to £1 million so far.