(Note: This story was updated with a quote from Top Stop's Sergio George who responded for our request for comment after press time.)
After being sued by his label, indie Top Stop Music (TSM), for breach of contract and unjust enrichment last September, rising bachata star Prince Royce has responded to the complaint and filed a counterclaim of his own.
Royce's complaint, filed Oct. 18 in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit for Miami-Dade, Florida, not only vigorously denies the allegations of breach of contract, but alleges that TSM does not have the rights to his recording services, that he is not a TSM exclusive artist and that TSM does not have rights for future Royce recordings or any options to acquire Royce's rights in English language albums.
The suit also contends that Royce's contract with Top Stop Music Publishing has expired and that TSM has not properly accounted to Royce for the sale of his music nor has it paid him what is due to him in both recording and publishing royalties.
"Top Stop's case is nothing more than a desperate attempt to claim rights from Royce that it does not have," said attorney Kenneth Freundlich in a press release. "Royce's counterclaims seek a swift, just and public resolution of this matter to prevent Top Stop from causing any further damage to his career." Freundlich in Los Angeles and Sean Santini of Miami represent Royce in this lawsuit.
The legal wrangling between Top Stop and Royce has been closely watched because Royce is without a doubt the most successful new act to be developed in the Latin marketplace in the past five years to the degree that his self-titled debut album was the top-selling Latin album of 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
But even as sales of Royce's sophomore set, Phase II, have also remained strong, the relationship between Royce and his label has soured dramatically, to the degree that as part of his suit, Royce also filed a third party claim against producer Sergio George, president of Top Stop and the man who brought him to the label.
In that third-party claim, Royce alleges that George "engaged in a public campaign of words seeking to undermine Royce's reputation in the Latin American community" and seeks damages for this "wrongful conduct."
"By publishing false statements, including, without limitation, in a press release, on the internet, on Univision's television show "Primer Impacto," in Billboard Magazine and elsewhere, wherein George called Royce an ingrate and stated that he had breached his agreements with TSM and TSMP, was not loyal and was turning his back on the Latin community, George intended to communicate to others false and defamatory statements against Royce," reads the suit.
Asked to comment on Prince Royce's Counterclaim, Top Stop's principal, Sergio George stated: "It's a cheap publicity stunt," and "the Counterclaim's emotional tone reveals its desperate nature." George further added: "It's easy to make allegations, we look forward to having the court weigh the actual merits."
Top Stop is represented by James Sammataro of "Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP."
The label''s suit stated it discovered Royce in 2009, signed him and turned him into an international superstar who topped Billboard charts only to see Royce seek greener pastures.
"Ignoring the cautionary tale of 'never forgetting those who have helped you,' Prince Royce has turned his back on Top Stop, despite the fact that Top Stop has invested in excess of $2 million cultivating Prince Royce's career and was successful in propelling him from an unsigned MySpace artist to No. 1 on the Latin Billboard charts," reads the complaint.
Conversely, Royce's complaint tells "not a tale of ingratitude, rather it's an all-too-familiar case of a greedy record label taking advantage of a vulnerable and inexperienced 19-year-old, inducing him with empty promises of riches and a record deal."
Meantime, Royce is in the midst of his more than 25-date tour that includes stops in New York's Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles' Nokia Theater.