Rising bachata star Prince Royce, the most successful new Latin act in recent years, has been sued for breach of contract and unjust enrichment by his label and publishing company, indie Top Stop Music and Top Stop Music Publishing. The complaint, filed September 14 in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, is the latest in a back-and-forth between attorneys for Royce (real name Geoffery Royce Rojas) and Top Stop that, according to documents included in the suit, goes back to November 2011.
Top Stop’s lawsuit alleges: “Ostensibly persuaded that he can achieve greater success with his new management team [veteran manager David Sonenberg of DAS Communications] and the new record and publishing agreements that they wish to put in place, Prince Royce has expressly repudiated and terminated the parties’ written agreements-under which they have been working on for several years-denying Top Stop Music its contractual rights to option Prince Royce’s next three recording albums, as well as Top Stop Music Publishing’s rights under the parties’ publishing agreement.”
Asked for comment, Royce’s attorney, Matthew Greenberg of Ritholz Levy Sanders Chidekel & Fields, responded to Billboard.biz via email: “Royce hasn’t been served and I haven’t seen the complaint and am therefore not in a position to comment on it. However I have seen Top Stop’s ‘press release’ and I can say that any allegation that Royce has breached any agreement with the company or that Royce has ever been anything but respectful, honest and professional in his dealings with Top Stop [and these accusations] are false and completely without merit.”
Top Stop, the indie music company founded by award-winning producer Sergio George and business partner Gregory Elias, issued a press release on Friday saying it had sued its artist; a copy of the complaint has been obtained by Billboard.
In it, Top Stop states it discovered Royce in 2009, signed him and turned him into an international superstar who topped Billboard charts (Royce’s albums have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart and his songs have reached No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs chart), 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,” the complaint reads.
Following the success of Royce’s debut album, Top Stop negotiated a joint-venture deal for Atlantic to release Royce’s upcoming English language albums. According to the suit, that deal was not consummated.
In his last email to Top Stop counsel, Greenberg indicated Royce’s team would entertain offers from other companies, including Atlantic.
Royce has enjoyed a rapid rise over the past two years. He signed with George in 2009, releasing his eponymous debut album in Fall of 2010. The album would become the top-selling Latin release of 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Royce’s first major hit was a bilingual, bachata rendition of “Stand By Me” produced by George. The singer released his sophomore set, “Phase II,” last Spring after signing a new management deal with Sonenberg early in the year.
But already, according to documents in the lawsuit, there were problems. In a letter dated January 5, 2012 and addressed to Top Stop attorney Marc Stollman, Greenberg stated the document served as termination of Royce’s publishing and recording agreements unless several changes were made to those agreements. Changes included a modification of the 20% contractual commission rate with Top Stop.
Documents indicate conversations ensued, then stalled. The last communication included in the suit, an email from Greenberg from last June, states: “It is our position that Top Stop has no entitlement to Royce’s recording or songwriting services or the product of those services […].”
However, says James Sammataro, Top Stop’s litigation attorney, “Top Stop’s contention is that Royce is bound by valid and enforceable recording and publishing agreements. Under our view, he is precluded from signing with any third-party – irrespective of the status of the lawsuit.”
Meanwhile, on September 26, Royce will kick off a more than 25-date tour that includes stops in New York’s Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ Nokia Theater.