Do drug traffickers or their families have the right to royalties for drug series?


On August 29, Milenio announced that Sandra Ávila Beltrán complained to Netflix and Telemundo for the use of her image without consent in the television series La Reina del Sur. 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.

An alleged drug trafficker syndicated in Mexico filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Telemundo, which constitutes new litigation around the representations of drug traffickers on television.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, once dubbed Mexico’s “ Queen of the Pacific,” has sued the streaming platform and TV channel, demanding 40 percent royalties from the Spanish -language series La Reina del Sur. , co -produced by Netflix and Telemundo .

According to documents obtained by the Mexican newspaper  Milenio, Ávila maintains that media firms “ exploited ” his image to promote the second season of the drug-trafficking series. 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. Because it is an administrative process, the IMPI clarified that it cannot be considered a lawsuit, as many international news outlets erroneously reported.

However, Ávila’s lawyer, Israel Razo Reyes,  allegedly told Milenio that his client’s claim for compensation before the IMPI is a step prior 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 Noticias Telemundo in 2019 directly affected the reputation of his client, as he claims that Ávila has never been charged with 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 her return to Mexico, Ávila also faced money laundering charges, but in 2015  his sentence was reversed.

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

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, known as "The Queen of the Pacific", was extradited to the United States in August 2012.
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, La Reina del Sur 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 her image without her 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 he is located in the legal assumption and if he duly proves it, he could obtain a resolution favorable,” explained Aguilar.

According to the lawyer, Ávila and her legal team would have to prove 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  Milenio that the demand is beyond the economic claim. “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, in her capacity 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” said in an exchange with InSight Crime that, for Ávila’s lawsuit against US media firms to succeed, “an advertising or defamation lawsuit would require [Ávila] to show that the public would have reason to believe that the series It describes her and not that she was simply inspired by some aspects of her life.”

In this image provided by Telemundo, actress Kate del Castillo in a scene from "La Reina del Sur."
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 character’s creator, the author  Arturo Pérez-Reverte, has categorically denied the rumors that La Reina del Sur was inspired by Ávila. The “Queen of the South” is “a fictional character built through visits and conversations with drug traffickers of much higher status [in various countries] and that it was impossible —and that is why I wrote the novel, to make it possible— for a woman to reach such a degree of power in a world as closed and sexist as that of 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 told 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 "La Reina del Sur," which returns this year for a third season.
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 a conversation with InSight Cri , Michael Lettieri, co-founder of the Mexico Violence Research Project, noted that the lines between these series and their subjects are blurring.

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

The truth is that La Reina del Sur is not the first drug 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 El Cártel de los Sapos: los origins, produced by Caracol and broadcast on Netflix, for the portrait of his father. He also claimed that the series plagiarized two books he authored on the subject of his family.

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.
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

Netflix’s Narcos franchise has also been affected. In 2021, the son of an Army General and the children of a renowned businessman and politician announced that they would sue Narcos México for the portrayal of their 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, Colombian journalist  Virginia Vallejo, who had an affair with Pablo Escobar, who was featured in the series Narcos, also sued Netflix. Vallejo affirmed that the producers of the series used, without her consent, several facts reported in her book about her relationship with the former capo of the Medellín Cartel. 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.

Mexico Daily Post