Brian Wilson’s ex-wife is suing him over Beach Boys song royalties deal

Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford has a 50 per cent ownership of the royalties from the 170 compositions Wilson wrote during their marriage

Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, the first wife of Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, has sued the musician over a deal he recently struck for the royalties of a number of Beach Boys songs.

Wilson agreed a reported $50million (£38.1million) deal with Universal Music Publishing Group in relation to his songs catalogue back in December, though the deal was not announced at the time.

Wilson-Rutherford, who was married to Wilson from 1964 to 1978, first sued Wilson over the matter in February at Los Angeles Superior Court, and the case was moved to federal court last Friday (March 25).


Wilson-Rutherford is alleging that she is owed at least $6.7million (£5.1million) from the song rights that were sold to Universal last year, and has requested a full account of the royalties she claims Wilson owes her from the past seven years (via Reuters).

Wilson and Wilson-Rutherford’s 1981 divorce settlement saw the latter take a 50 per cent ownership of Wilson’s songwriting royalties from the 170 compositions the Beach Boys musician wrote during their marriage, including ‘California Girls’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Good Vibrations’.

While Wilson-Rutherford was paid about $11million (£8.3million) from the writer’s share as a result of Wilson’s recent deal with Universal, she is now seeking the aforementioned $6.7million following the sale of his “reversion rights” – referring to US copyright law where artists can reclaim the rights to their songs 35 years after transferring them away – to the publisher.

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson performs during the ‘Something Great from ’68 Tour’ at The Greek Theatre on September 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California (Picture: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Her lawsuit adds that Wilson initially offered her $3.3million “to tie off all issues” between the ex-couple (via Rolling Stone), but Wilson-Rutherford then took legal action in February and alleged that she was owed twice as much.

While they don’t dispute Wilson-Rutherford’s rights to the writer’s share, Wilson’s lawyers argue that because Wilson couldn’t reclaim his copyrights until over 30 years after their 1981 divorce was finalised, Wilson-Rutherford is not entitled to the proceeds from the reversion deal.


“This is a business dispute between Brian and his ex-wife over who owns ‘copyright termination interests’ in songs Brian wrote or helped write during their marriage,” Wilson’s attorneys said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “With this filing, we are simply asking that the dispute be resolved in federal court, where we think it should be. We will have no further comment on this matter, and let the filings speak for themselves.”

Neither Wilson-Rutherford’s attorney or UMPG have commented further on the case.

Back in December, Wilson postponed his UK and European tour dates due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We are SO sad that we have to once again push our tour due to the constantly changing and challenging issues overseas surrounding the Covid 19 pandemic,” a statement shared by Wilson read. “Me and the guys were looking forward to seeing everyone, eating great food and performing. But with routing impossible and needing to keep our touring group safe we need to postpone. Such a bummer.

“I miss Europe I MISS London and all of the UK…. My second home. Send good vibes that we will be out of this soon. Stay safe everyone.”

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