'Narcos' Copyright Trial Approaches as Judge Rejects Netflix Dismissal Bid

A judge rules that the plaintiff's movie deal didn't divest her of standing to bring a lawsuit.
Penelope Cruz in "Loving Pablo"

Virginia Vallejo, a Colombian journalist who wrote about her close relationship with Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, may soon get to tell a Florida jury how Netflix's Narcos infringed her memoir. On Monday, a federal judge rejected arguments from Netflix and Gaumont Television premised on Vallejo's own deal with movie producers. The two sides appear to be preparing for a trial that could begin early next month.

Vallejo, once a popular television journalist in Colombia, is the author of Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore narrowed Vallejo's lawsuit. She couldn't sue over unprotectable bits like a meeting that proceeded Escobar's foray into politics, but the judge did see some unique expression in the way that Vallejo described Escobar's intimacy with a revolver.

As a prospective trial inched closer and with the parties discussing dates as soon as Thursday, the defendants made a new argument why Vallejo's suit failed.

Netflix and Gaumont pointed to how Vallejo had assigned motion picture rights to Loving Pablo to One Lane Highway (later known as Dean Nichols Productions) and Pinguin Films. Those production companies would release their film starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in 2017. The defendants argued that the broad assignment of rights had divested Vallejo of copyright, and thus, she had no standing to bring a lawsuit.

But in a decision today, Judge Moore seizes on how the movie producers did not exercise the option for a Loving Pablo motion picture until Dec. 2015, more than 16 weeks after the first season of Narcos was released.

"Although the assignment of rights was broad, it did not include the assignment of past, accrued causes of action for infringement," concludes the judge. "Consequently, under the terms of the Agreement, Plaintiff retained all rights in her memoir and copyrights until the Purchaser exercised the option and Plaintiff has standing to sue Defendants for infringement occurring from the time Narcos was released until the time the Purchaser exercised the option."

Here's the full decision.