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Cher triumphs in lengthy legal dispute over royalties with Sonny Bono’s widow

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Cher has emerged victorious in a legal dispute with Mary Bono over royalties related to her work with late ex-husband Sonny Bono. U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt ruled that Cher should have received over $418,000 in royalties as of June 30, 2022. This decision comes after Cher filed a $1 million lawsuit against Mary Bono and others involved in Sonny Bono’s estate, alleging breach of contract. The dispute centered around provisions that entitled Cher to 50% ownership of the couple’s musical composition and record royalties for hits like “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.”

The legal battle between Cher and Mary Bono dates back to a “1978 marriage settlement agreement” that Cher and Sonny entered into after their separation. Cher claimed that they agreed to an equal division of their community property, with rights “irrevocably assigned” to her. However, in 2016, Mary exercised the Copyright Act’s termination rights, seeking to reclaim rights that had been transferred to third parties, without Cher’s knowledge or participation. This move led to the ongoing dispute over royalties and ownership rights.

Judge Kronstadt’s ruling acknowledged that a right to receive royalties is distinct from a grant of copyright, thereby supporting Cher’s claim of breach of contract. Mary’s counterclaim seeking declaratory relief regarding Cher’s rights and obligations in selecting an estate administrator was partially granted. This means that Mary can pursue having the estate managed by an entity owned and controlled by Sonny’s heirs as the royalty administrator, with Cher having the right to raise objections to the terms of any agreement.

Despite the ruling in Cher’s favor, the specific details of how and when she will receive her unpaid royalties have not been disclosed. Representatives for both Cher and Mary Bono have not commented on the outcome of the legal battle. The case adds to a growing list of disputes among families of deceased celebrities over wills and estates, including those of Aretha Franklin, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Robin Williams.

The legal victory for Cher highlights the importance of contractual agreements in the music industry and the complexities of managing royalties and intellectual property rights posthumously. It also serves as a reminder of the challenges that can arise when dealing with legacy assets and ensuring fair compensation for artists and their heirs. As Cher prepares to claim her rightful earnings from her collaboration with Sonny Bono, the case sets a precedent for resolving similar disputes in the future and upholding the rights of artists in the music industry.

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