Dispute Between Roberto Escobar And Netflix Over 'Narcos' Gets Weird: Licensing Talks And A Dead Location Scout

from the even-stranger-things dept

Last year we discussed a dispute between Roberto Escobar, brother of the infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel's accountant, and Netflix over the latter's hit show Narcos. It was a strange dispute for any number of reasons, ranging from Roberto Escobar's demand for one billion dollars and the rights to alter content in future episodes to the fact that Escobar's demands didn't lay any actual claim to any intellectual property in dispute, all the way up to the fact that Narcos doesn't actually portray Roberto Escobar at all. Much like the silly dispute between Activision and Manuel Noriega over publicity rights, it was pretty much assumed that this nonsense would be done away with more quickly than a federal informant working on the inside of the cartel.

Sadly, however, this still appears to be a thing, and it's getting quite strange. For starters, Escobar's legal team claims that a capitulation of sorts by the show might be in the works. It all starts as you'd expect, with the legal team for Narcos detailing via a letter how silly Escobar's claims are, as well as how plainly false the applications Escobar subsequently made for trademarks on terms and titles from the show were.

Narcos Productions, LLC (NPL) — the company behind the series and its popular video game spinoff Narcos: Cartel Wars — contend that without NPL's "knowledge or consent, on Aug. 20, 2016, Escobar filed use-based applications to register the marks NARCOS and CARTEL WARS with the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] covering a range of goods and services." Those services include everything from "downloadable ring tones" and "sunglasses, decorative magnets" to "temporary tattoos, bookmarks and sheet music," according to the trademark application documents included with the letter. The letter calls the claims "fraudulent."

"For example," writes NPL attorney Jill M. Pietrini, "Escobar claims that it has used NARCOS in connection with things like 'operating a website' and 'game services provided online from a computer network' since Jan. 31, 1986. However, the internet had not been developed for widespread consumer use in 1986, nor was the capability to provide audiovisual works nor game services available at that time."

So basically the lawyers for the show are demonstrating how flimsy Escobar's attempts to setup a legal way to extort the show are. Trademark law is quite clear on the rights it affords to those who are the first to use a trademark in commerce and ought to act as a shield to these attempts. Despite that, emails obtained by THR from Escobar's legal team to Escobar himself seem to indicate that Narcos is considering just paying Escobar to go away anyway.

In a subsequent email correspondence obtained by THR and dated Sept. 1, an attorney for Escobar Inc. at Century City-based Browne George Ross LLP informs his client that he and Pietrini had a productive conversation about the claim.

"I floated the idea of paying you for an assignment or license or release related to your pre-exisiting rights in the trademarks in certain categories," Wesley writes. "She seemed to see the logic of exploring those discussions. She is going to speak with her client and get back to me."

While there is no clear commitment to a licensing deal there, the entertainment industry is notorious for paying people like this to go away, so it's not entirely out of the question. Given the clear legal framework here, however, as well as the personalities involved on the other side, it strikes me as fairly ludicrous that the show's producers would want any part of paying a former member of the cartel for no clear legal reason. Escobar's lawyers are making a lot of noise about how if Escobar chooses not to settle for whatever Narcos might be willing to pay him, then they "own the trademarks", which certainly is not remotely true here in the United States.

Adding to how strange all of this is would be the fact that a location scout for the show, Carlos Munoz Portal, was murdered in Mexico in recent weeks while scouting locations for Narcos' fourth season. While the facts surrounding Portal's death remain unknown at the time of this writing, Escobar has been rather cryptic on the topic.

Speaking Monday to The Hollywood Reporter, Escobar's 71-year-old surviving brother, Roberto De Jesus Escobar Gaviria, suggested the show's producers are not cut out for filming in such cartel-infested locales as Mexico and Colombia, adding that they would benefit from the hiring of "hitmen ... as security."

As for whether or not anyone at Escobar Inc., including Gaviria, currently has any knowledge regarding what happened to slain location scout Portal, Gustafsson would only offer, "No comment on that. But Escobar Inc. cooperates with all law enforcement."

It's as likely as not that Escobar is merely playing coy on this topic to add some gravitas to his threats and demands to Narcos and Netflix, but the comments are chill-inducing considering the source. Regardless, the merits of the trademark claims at hand remain fairly clear. Talks of Narcos capitulating or not, it's difficult to imagine a $1 Billion payday for Escobar coming anytime soon.

Filed Under: narcos, publicity rights, roberto escobar
Companies: netflix


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  1. icon
    Eldakka (profile), 21 Sep 2017 @ 10:54pm

    this nonsense would be done away with more quickly than a federal informant working on the inside of the cartel.

    badum tish


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