Silver, lead and television – Do drug traffickers or their families have the right to royalties for drug series?

Last August 29, Millennium announced that Sandra Ávila Beltrán claimed Netflix already Telemundo for the use of his image without consent in the television series the queen of the south. This has led to reviving the debate about the way in which various characters related to drug trafficking are represented in the series. Sandra Ávila demands from both platforms up to 40 percent of the profits obtained from the audiovisual production starring Kate del Castillo and based on the homonymous novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

By Gabrielle Corder

Mexico City, September 22 (InSightCrime).- An alleged drug dealer syndicated in Mexico filed a demand against Netflix and Telemundowhich constitutes a new litigation around the depictions of drug traffickers on television.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, once nicknamed Mexico’s “Queen of the Pacific,” has sued the streaming platform and television channel, demanding 40 percent of royalties of the Serie in Spanish the queen of the southco-produced by Netflix and Telemundo.

According to documents obtained by the Mexican newspaper Millennium, Ávila maintains that the media firms “exploited” his image to promote the second season of the series on drug trafficking. Although Ávila filed the compensation claim with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) in January of this year, the case was made public a short time ago.

In communication with InSight Crime, the IMPI confirmed that this body is evaluating whether the use of Ávila’s image was made within the legal framework or if there was any infraction. As it is an administrative process, the IMPI clarified that it cannot be considered a lawsuit, as was wrongly reported by many international news media.

However, Ávila’s lawyer, Israel Razo Reyes, reportedly told Millennium that her client’s claim for compensation before the IMPI is a preliminary step to a legal claim.

The images used by the companies correspond to the capture of Ávila in 2007 and his extradition to the United States in 2012. Razo maintains that the use of said images without authorization in the promotion of the second season of the series during a broadcast of Telemundo News in 2019 it directly affected the reputation of his client, as he claims that Ávila has never been charged for leading a drug cartel.

However, Ávila, from a family that allegedly had ties to the Guadalajara Cartel, pleaded guilty in a United States court in 2013 as an aide and accomplice of her boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinosa Ramírez. He would have been part of the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia, and served as a liaison with Mexican groups, especially the Sinaloa Cartel.

Upon his return to Mexico, Ávila also faced money laundering charges, but in 2015 his sentence was overturned.

Since then he has turned to TikTok to defend his innocence.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, known as “The Queen of the Pacific”, was extradited to the United States in August 2012. Photo: PGR/Cuartoscuro


Ávila’s claims put on the table the gray areas around the television adaptations of characters and real-life episodes associated with organized crime. Based on a book of the same title, the queen of the south tells the story of Teresa Mendoza, a Mexican woman who falls in love with a cartel pilot, who ends up becoming the head of an international drug trafficking organization.

Despite several important differences between the character of Mendoza and Ávila, several media outlets stated that Ávila inspired the character from whom the book takes its name, but that is not what motivated the demand for compensation.

The objective of the lawsuit before the IMPI is for the agency to “issue a statement determining that the violation was committed or not (use of his image without his consent)”, as commented by the Mexican intellectual property lawyer, José Antonio Aguilar, in exchange with InSight Crime.

“As much as there are popular or social rumors or indications that this person is dedicated to drug trafficking, as long as he does not have a final conviction, he will be innocent. […] If she is located in the legal assumption and if she duly demonstrates it, she could obtain a favorable resolution, “explained Aguilar.

According to the lawyer, Ávila and his legal team would have to demonstrate that the use of his image exceeded the legal parameters for the benefit of Netflix and Telemundo.

But even if the IMPI sides with Ávila, it is not guaranteed that it will receive 40 percent of the royalties from the production. “That is left to the discretion of the IMPI,” Aguilar commented.

And Razo, Ávila’s lawyer, told Millennium that the demand is beyond the economic pretension. “What we want is to set a precedent, it is that the image of people cannot be used lightly […] They know what they are going to stick to,” he concluded.

On the other hand, the coordinated legal defense of Netflix and Telemundo responded to the lawsuit, pointing out that, as a public figure, Ávila is a character of public interest and therefore is not entitled to the royalties of the series for the use of the images.

Louis P. Petrich, Netflix’s lead defense attorney in Vallejo v. “Narcos”, he said in exchange with InSight Crime that, for Ávila’s lawsuit against the U.S. media firms to succeed, “an advertising or defamation lawsuit would require that [Ávila] show that the audience would have reason to believe that the series describes her and not that it was simply inspired by some aspects of her life.”

In this image provided by Telemundo, actress Kate del Castillo in a scene from

In this image provided by Telemundo, actress Kate del Castillo in a scene from

In this image provided by Telemundo, actress Kate del Castillo in a scene from “La Reina del Sur.” Photo: Telemundo via AP

That can be difficult to prove. The creator of the character, the author Arturo Pérez-Reverte, has categorically denied the rumors that the queen of the south it would have been inspired by Ávila. The “Queen of the South” is “a fictional character built through visits and conversations with drug traffickers of much higher category [en diversos países] and that it was impossible —and that is why I wrote the novel, to make it possible— for a woman to achieve such a degree of power in a world as closed and macho as drug trafficking was then,” the author wrote in 2020, describing Ávila as a petty criminal.

He also ruled out similarities in the aliases they used in the underworld. “Every time a woman related to drug trafficking is arrested in Mexico, the media there take out the queen of the deck,” she commented.

Petrich also pointed to other television characters and songs allegedly inspired by Ávila, against whom she has not filed any lawsuits. However, these have not used the image of women.

A ruling in favor of Ávila could lead to a series of lawsuits for compensation, lawsuits and stories related to organized crime.

The judges “apply the Law; whether this is fair or not is another matter,” Aguilar said in communication with InSight Crime.

Kate del Castillo arrives at the Latin American Music Awards ceremony on October 17, 2019 in Los Angeles. Del Castillo stars in the Telemundo series

Kate del Castillo arrives at the Latin American Music Awards ceremony on October 17, 2019 in Los Angeles. Del Castillo stars in the Telemundo series

Kate del Castillo arrives at the Latin American Music Awards ceremony on October 17, 2019 in Los Angeles. Del Castillo stars in the Telemundo series “La Reina del Sur,” which returns this year for a third season. Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File


in conversation with InSight CrimeMichael Lettieri, co-founder of the Research Project on Violence in Mexico, pointed out that the lines that separate these series from their subjects are blurring.

“Everyone tries to get a piece of the cake, because there is money involved,” Lettieri told InSight Crimereferring to the different industries that profit from the drug culture.

The truth is the queen of the south It is not the first narco series to face lawsuits or receive threats of legal action.

At the end of 2021, the son of the head of the Cali Cartel, Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, announced that he would sue the producers of the series The Toad Cartel: the originsproduced by Snail and broadcast on Netflix, for the portrait of his father. He also claimed that the series plagiarized two books of her authorship on the subject of her family.

The writer Arturo Pérez Reverte presented his book

The writer Arturo Pérez Reverte presented his book

The writer Arturo Pérez Reverte presented his book “Sabotaje”, this within the framework of the 32nd edition of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), held in November 2018. Photo: Fernando Carranza, Cuartoscuro

The franchise narcs of Netflix has also been affected. In 2021, the son of an Army General and the children of a well-known businessman and politician announced that they would sue drug lords mexico for the portrayal of his parents as corrupt officials in the series. Likewise, in 2020, the doctor accused and later acquitted of participating in the death of the agent of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, also announced that he would file a lawsuit against Netflix.

In 2018, the Colombian journalist Virginia Vallejo, who had a love affair with Pablo Escobar, who appeared in the series narcs, also sued Netflix. Vallejo claimed that the producers of the series used, without his consent, several facts reported in his book about his relationship with the former Medellin Cartel boss. Vallejo lost the lawsuit.

And in 2017, Escobar’s brother demanded a $1 billion payment from Netflix for the use of his brother’s name and story in the series. He eventually withdrew the lawsuit.




The article is in Spanish

Tags: Silver lead television drug traffickers families royalties drug series

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