Born in Detroit to Italian immigrants Jean and Santo, Sonny was the youngest of three siblings, with two older sisters, Fran and Betty. Bono attended Inglewood High School in Inglewood, California, but did not graduate.
Bono poked a little fun at himself when he guest-starred on The Golden Girls, in the episode "Mrs. George Devereaux", aired November 17, 1990, as himself vying with Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy's (Beatrice Arthur) affection in a dream, where Blanche (Rue McClanahan) dreams her husband is still alive. In the dream, Sonny uses his power as mayor of Palm Springs, California to have Waggoner falsely arrested just so he can have Dorothy to himself. Later on, after Blanche awakens from the dream, Dorothy is thrilled to learn she picked Sonny "this time."
Bono entered politics after experiencing great frustration with local government bureaucracy in trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. With conservative talk radio host Marshall Gilbert as his campaign manager, Bono placed a successful bid to become the new mayor of Palm Springs. He served from 1988 to 1992. He was instrumental in making the city more business-friendly and in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, now held each year in Bono's memory.
Bono ran for the Republican nomination for United States Senate in 1992, but the nomination went to the more conservative Bruce Herschensohn, and the election to the Democrat Barbara Boxer. Bono and Herschensohn became close friends after the campaign. Bono was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent California's 44th congressional district. He was one of twelve co-sponsors of a House bill extending copyright. Although that bill was never voted on in the Senate, a similar Senate bill was passed after his death and named the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in his honor.
He championed the restoration of the Salton Sea, bringing the giant lake's plight to national attention. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made a public appearance and speech at the shore of the lake on Bono's behalf.
In their book Tell Newt to Shut Up, David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf credit Bono with being the first person to recognize Gingrich's public relations problems in 1995. Drawing on his long experience as a celebrity and entertainment producer, Bono (according to Maraniss and Weisskopf) recognized that Gingrich's status had changed from politician to celebrity, and that Gingrich was not making allowances for that change:
"You're a celebrity now, ... The rules are different for celebrities. I know it. I've been there. I've been a celebrity. I used to be a bigger celebrity. But let me tell you, you're not being handled right. This is not political news coverage. This is celebrity status. You need handlers. You need to understand what you're doing. You need to understand the attitude of the media toward celebrities."Sonny also had involvement with the hearings related to the Waco Siege on April 19, 1993. He was reported to have been extremely upset while watching a video of the attack on the compound.
On January 5, 1998, Bono died from injuries sustained when he struck a tree while skiing on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort near South Lake Tahoe, California. He was 62. Bono was survived by his widow Mary Bono, daughters Christy, Chastity, and Chianna, and his son Chesare. His mother Jean Bono, who also survived him, died in January 2005, at 90.
His death came just a little less than a week after Michael Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, died in a similar skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado. Bono's wife, Mary, was elected to fill the remainder of his Congressional term. Over 10 years after his death, she continues to champion many of Sonny's causes, including the ongoing fight to save the Salton Sea.
After Bono's death, Mary told an interviewer from TV Guide that Sonny had been addicted to and was seriously abusing prescription drugs, mainly Vicodin and Valium. Though Mary claimed that Sonny's drug use caused the accident, the autopsy found no narcotics and only a very small amount of Valium – not enough to cause impairment, according to the Douglas County Coroner's report.
Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. The epitaph on Bono's headstone reads: "And the Beat Goes On."
The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Since the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright would last for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978 was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date.
This law, also known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, Sonny Bono Act, or pejoratively as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, effectively "froze" the advancement date of the public domain in the United States for works covered by the older fixed term copyright rules. Under this Act, additional works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still copyrighted in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or afterward (depending on the date of the product) unless the owner of the copyright releases them into the public domain prior to that or if the copyright gets extended again. Unlike copyright extension legislation in the European Union, the Sonny Bono Act did not revive copyrights that had already expired. The Act did extend the terms of protection set for works that were already copyrighted, and is retroactive in that sense. However, works created before January 1, 1978 but not published or registered for copyright until recently are addressed in a special section (17 U.S.C. § 303) and may remain protected until the end of 2047. The Act became Pub.L. 105-298 on October 27, 1998.
Opponents of the Bono Act consider the legislation to be corporate welfare and have tried (but failed) to have it declared unconstitutional, claiming that such an act is not "necessary and proper" to accomplishing the Constitution's stated purpose of "promot[ing] the progress of science and useful arts". They argue that most works bring most of the profits during the first few years and are pushed off the market by the publishers thereafter. Thus there is little economic incentive in extending the terms of copyrights except for the few owners of franchises that are wildly successful, such as Disney. They also point out that the Tenth Amendment can be construed as placing limits on the powers that Congress can gain from a treaty. More directly, they see two successive terms of approximately 20 years each (the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Bono Act) as the beginning of a "slippery slope" toward a perpetual copyright term that nullifies the intended effect and violates the spirit of the "for limited times" language of the United States Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 8.
They question the proponents' life expectancy argument, making the comparison between the growth of copyright terms and the term of patents in relation to the growth of life expectancies. Life expectancies have risen from about 35 years in 1800 to 77.6 years in 2002. Considering the increase in life expectancies during that period of time was a bit more than double but the copyright terms have increased threefold from only 28 years total (under the 1790 act) presents an apparent discrepancy. While copyright terms have increased significantly since the 1790 act, terms of patents have not been extended in parallel; patents adequately reward investment in the field with their mere 20-year term.
Opponents also argue that the Act encourages "offshore production." For example, derivative works could be created outside the United States in areas where copyright would have expired, such works advancing science or the useful arts, and that US law would prohibit these works to US residents. For example, a movie of Mickey Mouse playing with a computer could be legally created in Russia and children worldwide could possibly benefit from watching it, but the movie would be refused admission for importation by US Customs because of copyright, resulting in a deprivation to American children. The first Winnie-the-Pooh book (the rights now owned by Disney) was published in 1926 and would have been public domain in 2001.
Opponents identify another possible harm from copyright extension: loss of productive value of private collections of copyrighted works. A person who collected copyrighted works that would soon "go out of copyright," intending to re-release them on copyright expiration, lost the use of his capital expenditures for an additional 20 years when the Bono Act passed. This is part of the underlying argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft. The Bono Act is thus perceived to add an instability to commerce and investment, areas, which have a better legal theoretical basis than intellectual property, whose theory is of quite recent development and is often criticized as being a corporate chimera. Conceivably, if one had made such an investment and then produced a derivative work (or perhaps even re-released the work in ipse), he could counter a suit made by the copyright holder by declaring that Congress had unconstitutionally made, ex post facto, a restriction on the previously unrestricted.
Opponents also question the proponents' "new works would not be created" argument: the hidden presumption that the goal is to make the creation of new works possible. However, the authors of the United States Constitution evidently thought that unnecessary, instead restricting the goal of copyright is to merely "promot[ing] the progress of science and useful arts". In fact, some works created under time-limited copyright would not be created under perpetual copyright because the creator of a distantly derivative work does not have the money and resources to find the owner of copyright in the original work and purchase a license, or the individual or privately held owner of copyright in the original work might refuse to license a use at any price (though a refusal to license may trigger a fair use safety valve). Thus they argue that a rich, continually replenished, public domain is necessary for continued artistic creation.
Publishers and librarians, among others, brought Eldred v. Ashcroft to obtain an injunction on enforcement of the act. Oral arguments were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on October 9, 2002, and on January 15, 2003 the court held the CTEA constitutional by a 7-2 decision.
The plaintiffs in the Eldred case have as of 2003 begun to shift their effort toward the U.S. Congress in support of a bill called the Public Domain Enhancement Act that would make the provisions of the Bono Act apply only to copyrights that had been registered with the Library of Congress.