Brian Wilson’s Ex-Wife Sues for Millions After the Recent Sale of His Catalog

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Brian Wilson’s ex-wife is suing the former Beach Boy for more than $6.7 million in royalties.

Wilson’s ex-wife, Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, wants her share of royalties from songs he recently sold to Universal Music Publishing Group last year. That deal is valued at more than $50 million, according to court documents, reports Digital Music News.

Brian and Marilyn were married from 1964 until 1978, during which he co-wrote some of the Beach Boy’s biggest songs, including “California Girls,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations.”

According to their 1981 divorce settlement, which was included in the lawsuit, Marilyn owns half the rights to 170 songs that Brian wrote during their marriage. And the $6.7 million she is requesting has to do with his “reversion rights.”

U.S. copyright law lets artists reclaim copyrights they had previously transferred away after significant time, even decades. And Marilyn says that Brian owes her proceeds from the sale of those copyrights he recently reclaimed.

According to the lawsuit, Brian offered her $3.3 million, which she says is only one-fourth of what the rights are worth. Brian’s lawyer says that she is not entitled to the proceeds because they were divorced before he was eligible to exercise termination rights on his songs.

“Brian’s ownership of the copyright termination interests Brian sold to UMPG depended entirely on Brian’s ‘postmarital efforts’ to obtain them,” said Brian’s lawyers. “Brian did not own those termination interests until 30 years after the 1981 judgment was entered and long after the separation of the parties.”

Brian’s publisher owned his songwriting copyrights for decades and paid him a 50% royalty, which he then split with Marilyn, according to DMN. But the termination right would have allowed him the chance to earn back his catalog from University Music Publishing Group. In a December 2021 deal, UMPG bought out Wilson’s songwriting share and his termination interest.

Also according to court documents, Brian apparently agreed to pay $11 million from the $31 million in the UMPG deal. But his lawyers said that Marilyn was not entitled to any money.

Photo by Pamela Littky / Decca Records

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