The Escobar Effect

On September 2, 2016, popular television series creator Netflix released its latest in an addictive batch of original content: season two of Narcos. Following the story of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar, Narcos details the rise and fall of one of the world’s most notorious criminals, replete with a decent bit of dramatization and a lot of Spanish subtitles.

Narcos, despite its fledgling status in the Netflix line-up, has garnered massive attention and praise from enthusiastic viewers, resulting in a two season renewal just days after its season two release. While the show has enthralled many, one particular viewer found himself less than enthused with Netflix’s take on Pablo Escobar – his brother.

On July 1, 2016, Roberto de Jesus Escobar Gaviria penned a scathing letter to Netflix, in which he demanded Netflix not release season two of Narcos until he was given a “rightful opportunity to review the material.” Roberto Escobar claimed season one contained “mistakes, lies, and discrepancies” which departed from the real story, and asked that “things are done right” on behalf of his late brother. Further, Roberto Escobar stated: “I may be wrong, but I do not believe you may profit on my name, my brother’s name and my family’s name and our likeness unless you pay and get our approval.” Clearly, Roberto Escobar is looking for a cut of the profits, and the $1 billion question is whether his claim is up to snuff.

Roberto Escobar is the co-founder and co-owner of Escobar, Inc., a private holding company based in Puerto Rico and Medellín with registered successor-in-interest rights to Pablo Escobar focused on property. Despite the company name, there is no evidence of exclusive rights to Pablo Escobar or his life story either in the U.S. or Colombia. In 2013, the Escobar family unsuccessfully attempted to trademark its own name, along with Pablo’s fingerprint and signature, a claim which the Commission of Industry and Commerce of Colombia rejected, stating it would “offend the morality of Colombian society and public order.”

When it comes to intellectual property, especially the rights to a particular subject, producers may elect to purchase the rights to a story to avoid ruffling feathers and costly litigation, or forgo this method entirely and simply elect to rely solely on facts found in the public domain. Here, Netflix has gone with the latter, resulting in an addicted fan base – all without shipping out a single kilo of cocaine.

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