The cultural influence of Selena Quintanilla knows no bounds. Our Tejana superstar has lived on for decades after her death with the help of die-hard fans. A full 23 years after her death, Selena’s music remained in the Billboard top 40, a wax figure at Madame Tussauds debuted in her honor, and she was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. Dolls, murals, makeup, clothes, cover bands, and Halloween costumes keep on popping up in homage to the cumbia queen. But no one is more dedicated to keeping her legacy alive than the independent Latinx shop owners, artists, and creators who are continuously finding new and creative ways to pay homage to our beloved Selena.
Anyone who loves Selena knows she took her relationship with her fans very seriously. It is mutual respect and adoration most assumed her estate would continue to honor since we’ve all heard the Quintanilla family thank her fan base in interviews and acceptance speeches again and again. But recent allegations have come to light that the Quintanilla family routinely threatens lawsuits against the very people who have ensured Selena’s ongoing relevance — the very same independent artists and small business owners who create and sell Selena-themed merchandise.
HipLatina spoke to several artists who have received direct messages and emails threatening legal action from someone who claims to be a representative for Q Productions — the company founded by Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla. Leslie Saiz was selling a Selena inspired enamel pin on Etsy when she was contacted via DM citing a likeness violation. It’s something that took her by surprise since she made her original design from the heart for other Selena fans. “I didn’t make the pin to make money. I am truly just a Selena fan who wanted a cool Selena product. The art for my pin was 100 percent created from scratch. It does not reference any picture out there that anyone owns rights to,” Saiz told HipLatina. “I was being respectful of their rights and brand while contributing to keeping her memory alive. It totally left a bad taste in my mouth that the family is actually actively threatening small Latinx business over low profile Selena art/products.”
But Saiz is not the only one who was left with a bad taste in her mouth after dealing with Q Productions. HipLatina spoke to several other creators who had similar experiences. All reported feeling scared and disappointed, and most refused to go on the record for fear of legal retaliation from Q Productions. It’s a legal fight that they know they can’t afford and for some, like Etsy shop owner Barbara Hernandez, the messages had a real emotional and financial impact.
“I was scared and didn’t know what to do or who to turn to about this. I was scared of getting sued when I could barely afford my textbooks. But the fact is that this was happening over a pack of buttons that I was selling for $5. I shut down my shop for a while because I didn’t want any more drama.”
Hernandez eventually reopened her Etsy shop, “But this affected me because I was also selling other pins and accessories and that extra money helped me out,” she concluded.
Are They Breaking Any Laws?
According to sports and entertainment attorney Jaia Thomas, the actions taken by Q Productions seem to be more of an intimidation tactic to get creators, entrepreneurs, and artists to stop using Selena’s image rather than strict enforcement of copyrighted infringement. Although these messages can technically be considered cease and desists, Thomas says this is not how corporations typically conduct themselves.
“It seems like they want to make sure that they have complete control of how her image is used. Normal protocol would include an attorney and very specific information about how the person receiving the cease and desists is infringing upon the copyright,” Thomas said about the content of the various DM’s and emails received by fans.
The fact is, much of the original work created by these artists would fall under “fair use,” which allows individuals to use copyrighted material if it meets certain guidelines of transformation. Thomas also noted that makers who removed their items at the request of Q Productions have the right to counter the claim made against them. “Go back and argue ‘I am using this image, it falls under fair use.’ All third-party platforms give people the opportunity to state their case,” she said. Thomas also recommended that artists and entrepreneurs use a disclaimer on their pages. “Creators can always use a disclaimer saying something like ‘The merchandise on this page is not affiliated with Q Productions.’ It adds an extra layer of legal protection,” she advises.
What About the Forever 21 Collab?
There is also deep irony in that a company so concerned with the illegal use of their intellectual property would collaborate with Forever 21, a multi-billion dollar chain that consistently steals designs from small creators as well as Latinx small business owners. Rachel Gomez, the Founder of Viva La Bonita, is the most recent victim of Forever 21’s creative theft. Her signature “Bonita” design in Old English font is now for sale at Forever 21 for $9.90. It’s something she says could be avoided if these companies would collaborate with the artists instead of stealing their ideas.
“Stealing from Latina makers isn’t cool at all. Hire Latinx graphic designers, branders, creatives instead of stealing our labor. Don’t create a world where artists don’t want to put out their work because we know in a month, Forever 21 is going to mass produce it and sell it for $10. Our work is worth so much more. Make a seat at the table for us,” Gomez said.
Brittany Chavez, the founder of small business database ShopLatinx, has been outspoken about the fact that large chains like Forever 21 regularly steal from Latinx small businesses and believes that the Q Productions should be investing in the Latinx community instead of making money off corporations that steal from the creative community.
“We would love to have an open conversation with the Quintanilla family on the importance of shopping within the community and introduce them to Latinx business owners they can support who are also die hard Selena fans,” Chavez said.
The people who lose out the most in all of this drama are Selena’s fans. Which poses the question: Are the intimidation tactics used by Q Productions something Selena herself would condone? Why not uplift and collaborate with the thousands of independent artists that have genuine love and admiration for her? Why squash the small Latinx business owners that already have larger companies stealing their designs? And why support a company that takes from the Latinx community with zero accountability or profit sharing? The fact is, you can’t own or control someone’s essence, and it’s pretty safe to say that when it comes to this kind of treatment of her fans, Selena would not be muy excited.