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Sandra Avila Beltran Wins Judgement Against Telemundo for "La Reina del Sur" TV Show Image

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“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

In a decision that opens the legal path to a possible multi-million dollar royalties payment, the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) determined that Telemundo used the image of the ‘Queen of the Pacific’ without her permission, as part of the promotion of the successful telenovela “La Reina del Sur.”

The IMPI resolution puts an end to the debate regarding whether Telemundo took advantage of the image of Ávila Beltrán as a way to attract attention to the telenovela. Ávila Beltrán has pointed out that the character of Teresa Mendoza, played by Kate del Castillo, is inspired by her life and that the television network, aware of this circumstance, broadcast a video in its newscast on April 19, 2019, where they used pictures of her to promote the second season of the telenovela.

At first glance, the judgment imposed by IMPI on the media company seems very small. It is about 5 million pesos or about $280,000. That figure is very minimal for the profits of the multi-million dollar show and its US spinoff. 

However, this decision paves the way towards a compensatory figure that could reach up to $150 million, or 40% of the royalties generated by the Queen of the South over the years. ‘La Reina del Pacífico’ has demanded 40% royalties from Netflix and Telemundo for the show featuring the titular character Teresa Mendoza, known as “La Reina del Sur.”

With the IMPI ruling in your favor, Ávila Beltrán’s defense is preparing to file a lawsuit in Mexican courts to demand that Telemundo pay proportionally for the use of her image. Just like Gael Garcia did in his battle with Johnnie Walker whiskey: the actor first got a ruling from the institute for misuse of his image and then sued. In the end, the Mexican court ordered Diageo to pay him 40% of the royalties from the Walking with Giants advertising campaign. The figure is not officially known, but it is estimated that it amounted to several million pesos.

Being one of the most successful telenovelas in the world, and a ratings leader in Mexico and the United States, the defense estimates that it has generated profits that could reach $300 million. Ávila Beltrán claimed the improper use of her image, in violation of the Federal Copyright Law.

Among the images that appeared in the promotional video, the photograph of Ávila appears in a different context from that of her arrest, as she is wearing a palm hat, made up with earrings, a necklace, a tank top, her hair tied up and a relaxed, different pose, then at the time of her arrest. That image alone was enough for the international network Telemundo to be held responsible for illegally using the image of the so-called Queen of the Pacific.

The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) determined that “Telemundo Network Group, LLC has committed the commercial infringement provided for in section II of article 231 of the Federal Copyright Law, having used the image of Sandra Ávila Beltrán, an applicant for the infringement, without authorization and for indirect profit.”

Although the procedure that Ávila Beltrán initiated in January 2022 also pointed to Netflix México as responsible for the same infraction, the IMPI concluded that there is no evidence that the streaming platform was the company that improperly used the image of the affected person.

The IMPI also imposed a fine on Telemundo of 448,100 pesos or $25,000.

This case also has potential implications for other TV series, movies, and goods that are dedicated to narco culture and its history. This includes such convicted figures as Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Arellano Félix brothers, and others.
Sandra during her 2015 release.

Telemundo’s Defense 

Telemundo Network presented different allegations, among which it highlighted that the photographs used in a promotional video for the second season of the series were merely for informational and journalistic purposes and that, moreover, they had been taken in public places.

In that video ─which was removed from their website a day after the IMPI resolution─ which appeared to be a news report, was made of the start of the second season images of the actress Kate del Castillo are shown, but also photographs of Sandra Ávila Beltrán when she was apprehended by the Mexican authorities in 2007. Ávila was extradited to the United States in 2012, where she pleaded guilty to assisting Espinosa Ramírez. A year later she was deported to Mexico, where the courts finally determined that she could not be prosecuted for the same crime and ordered her release.
The IMPI agreed that “almost all of the images that are reproduced… It can be seen that the portrait of Sandra Ávila Beltrán was made in public places since their capture or apprehension was public knowledge, which coincides with the various images contained in the aforementioned portraits.”
However, the palm hat image that appeared in the promotional video of Ávila is in a different context from that of her arrest. The authority stated that “it is not possible to determine if it was taken in a public place, or in a private one since it is noticeable outside the moment in which the other portraits in which the image of Sandra Ávila Beltran appears were taken.”
“From the content established by the note found on the website, it can be seen that more than making the public aware of a topical aspect, such as the issue in which a person is accused of committing drug trafficking.” Refuted Telemundo’s arguments that said images were used for informational and journalistic purposes.
Telemundo also tried to distance itself from the website where the promotional video for the series was broadcast, arguing that said site was owned by NBC Universal Media, LLC and not by it. For the IMPI, the allegation was meaningless, since in the Terms of Service of the website it is clearly described that the parent company of Telemundo Network Group is NBC Universal Media LLC, which “recognizes the relationship between them, taking responsibility for the content and of the fruits that this platform entails”.


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