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Vallejo v. Narcos Productions LLC

In copyright infringement suit accusing Netflix series Narcos of infringing memoir written by journalist and former mistress of drug lord Pablo Escobar, district court denies defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of standing, holding plaintiff’s assignment of motion picture rights did not expressly include right to sue for past infringement. 

Colombian journalist Virginia Vallejo’s memoir, Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar), recounts her time as the mistress of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Vallejo brought a copyright infringement suit against defendants, the producers and distributors of Narcos, a series about the Colombian drug trade available for streaming on Netflix. Defendants brought a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that Vallejo had assigned away motion picture rights in her memoir, and therefore lacked standing to bring suit. The district court denied defendants’ motion, holding that plaintiff had standing to sue.

Defendants maintained that Vallejo lacked standing because on Jan. 4, 2013, she executed an agreement to assign her rights to make a motion picture of her memoir. Vallejo countered that the purchaser did not exercise the option until December 2015, more than 16 weeks after the first season of Narcos aired and, under the terms of the agreement, she still owned the rights to her memoir at the time of defendants’ infringement, and therefore has standing to sue.  

The court agreed with plaintiff, finding that she retained all her rights in the memoir until the purchaser exercised its option, noting that language transferring causes of actions for prior infringements must be “explicit” and that the language in Vallejo’s agreement did not include an assignment of the right to sue for past infringement. She therefore had standing to sue for infringement occurring from the time Narcos was released until the time the purchaser exercised the option.

Summary prepared by Tal Dickstein and Lisa Rubin