Cher Triumphs in Decades-Old Battle to Receive Sonny & Cher Royalties

Sonny and Cher royalties
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Sonny and Cher royalties
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Photo Credit: Raph PH / CC by 2.0

Cher has finally won her decades-old copyright battle against Sonny Bono’s widow over royalty payments from the Sonny & Cher catalog.

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday, May 29, in favor of Cher in her decades-long copyright lawsuit battle with Sonny Bono’s widow over royalty payments from the Sonny & Cher catalog.

US District Judge John Kronstadt determined Cher is entitled to the royalties from the Sonny & Cher catalog despite Bono’s widow exercising her termination rights per the Copyright Act. That ruling upholds Judge Kronstadt’s tentative ruling issued back in February.

In 1978, when she and Sonny Bono settled their divorce, Cher was determined to be entitled to a 50% stake in the Sonny & Cher publishing catalog. After Sonny’s passing in 1998 in a skiing accident, Cher entered into a new partnership with Bono’s heirs over the catalog.

But in 2016, Mary Bono exercised the Copyright Act’s termination rights, enabling songwriters or their heirs to regain control of their US publishing rights after 35 years. In 2021, she claimed that through the termination rights, she could stop paying royalties — for which Cher subsequently sued. Wednesday’s ruling found around $418,000 in royalties that would have been paid out to Cher as of June 30, 2022.

Judge Kronstadt’s ruling upholds the previously agreed upon divorce settlement in 1978, where Cher was granted a 50% cut. The judge writes that the settlement gave Cher a “contractual right to receive financial compensation,” and that negated the control over Sonny’s copyrights that the termination rights would grant. “A right to receive royalties is distinct from a grant of copyright,” writes the judge.

Sonny & Cher were a major creative duo from the early 1960s until their divorce in 1974. During that time, Sonny Bono wrote many of their biggest hits, including “I Got You Babe,” “Baby Don’t Go,” and “The Beat Goes On.” They were placed at No. 18 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Duos of All Time list in 2015.