Gael García Bernal’s Lawsuit Against Johnnie Walker Explains What Happens When Brands Use Your Image Without Permission

Despite being busy working on a number of existing projects — including an upcoming role as a Marvel superhero — Bernal has won a high-profile lawsuit against one of the world’s most popular whiskey brands.

In a lawsuit that claimed the company used the actor’s image without his permission, Bernal was seeking financial damages, and just last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation agreed.

Gael García Bernal wins lawsuit against Johnnie Walker and will be compensated for unauthorized campaign.

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has ruled in favor of actor Gael García Bernal in a lawsuit he filed alleging that the whiskey brand Johnnie Walker used his image without his consent. It was back in 2013 when Bernal originally filed the case after seeing his image appear in 22 television commercials, without any collaboration or payment from the popular whiskey brand.

In the ruling, the court ordered Johnnie Walker’s Mexican subsidiary Diageo México to pay García 40% of the revenue it made during the company’s ‘Caminando con Gigantes’ campaign — which ran back in 2011 but was a popular worldwide campaign.

Although Mexico’s tax court will make the final call on how much the Mexican actor is entitled to from the lawsuit, it remains unclear just how much the actor may receive. But many on social media — and within the entertainment industry — hailed the decision as one that protects the image of celebrities and everyday people alike.

The campaign was run by a subsidiary of the Johnnie Walker label within Mexico.

Although it’s a common phrase that ‘justice takes time,’ few people could have expected a lawsuit on unauthorized use of García’s image would take up to ten years to deliver results. However, this battle sets an important precedent for companies to understand that artists, and people, deserve respect regarding the use of their personal image. 

The Caminando con Gigantes campaign was a major ad that ran in several markets around the world. Mexico’s version, launched by Diaego México, featured García in various roles including as the protagonist from Disney’s “Coco” and “Mozart in the Jungle.”

This ruling helps solidify the idea that under Mexico’s federal copyright law, the use of a person’s image in an advertising campaign without his or her permission is illegal.

The actor has been silent about the case on social media but he’s been busy.

García has never been shy about his activism and compassion. Even the roles he’s taken on as an actor often make a social or political statement. That’s why it was so great to see him as a guest speaker at this year’s COP26 conference, addressing climate change in Mexico.

In fact, the actor worked on a six episode web series dedicated to addressing the climate crisis in Mexico. The series is called “El Tema” and is available through La Corriente del Golfo’s YouTube channel. The episodes narrate the histories and experiences of environmental activists, human rights defenders, indigenous communities and organizations such as Greenpeace Mexico, Oceana MX and Wikipolítica Chihuahua among others.

The iconic Mexican actor has also been busy with promoting his latest film, “Old,” a project by M Night Shyamalan. In the film, García plays a husband and father to two young children. But when they, and some other hotel guests, journey to a secluded cove, strange things start to happen. If they try to leave, they black out. And then comes the real twist: they are now ageing so rapidly, that every half hour that passes is the equivalent of a year. You know you’ll catch me in the theatre checking out this movie!

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