Beach Boy Brian Wilson's ex-wife sues over millions in song royalties

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys performs in  Beverly Hills
Singer Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
  • Lawsuit said Wilson sold interest in songwriting catalog to Universal last year
  • Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford said Wilson owes her at least $6.7 million

(Reuters) - Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, the first wife of Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, has sued Wilson for a share of royalties that she says he owes her from some of the band's best-known songs.

In a lawsuit moved from Los Angeles state court to federal court Friday, Wilson-Rutherford asked the court to order Wilson to pay her at least $6.7 million from song rights he sold to a Universal Music Corp affiliate last year and for a full accounting of royalties Wilson owes her from the past seven years.

Wilson and Wilson-Rutherford were married from 1964 until 1978. Wilson cowrote some of the Beach Boys' biggest hits during that time, including "California Girls," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and "Good Vibrations".

A 1981 divorce settlement attached to the lawsuit said Wilson-Rutherford owns half of the rights in 170 compositions Wilson created during their marriage.

Wilson-Rutherford's lawsuit said the $6.7 million she is requesting was for the sale of his "reversion rights." U.S. copyright law allows artists to reclaim copyrights they had previously transferred away after decades, and Wilson-Rutherford said Wilson owed her proceeds from the sale of copyrights he recently reclaimed.

The lawsuit said Wilson offered Wilson-Rutherford $3.3 million, which she alleged was only a quarter of what the rights were worth. According to a letter attached to the complaint, Wilson's lawyer said she was not entitled to proceeds from the sale of those rights because he did not become eligible to exercise his termination rights until long after the divorce.

Wilson-Rutherford also said Wilson sent her $11 million from the sale of some composition rights, and that Wilson failed to send information for her to verify that the amount covered her share.

Wilson-Rutherford also asked the court to calculate how much Wilson may owe her in other royalties, as well as proceeds from the sale of his company Brother Publishing.

Wilson's attorney Eric Custer of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips said Tuesday that the lawsuit was a "business dispute between Brian and his ex-wife" that should be resolved in federal court instead of state court.

Wilson-Rutherford originally filed the lawsuit in state court last month. Wilson-Rutherford's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Wilson v. Wilson-Rutherford, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-01982.

For Wilson: Eric Custer of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

For Wilson-Rutherford: Joseph Mannis of Hersh Mannis

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as an attorney. Contact: 12029385713