Netflix wins in ‘Narcos’ copyright dispute

On the 8th November 2019, USA District Judge Rodney Smith ruled in favour of Netflix and the production company, Gaumont International Television, in the alleged copyright infringement of its popular show, ‘Narcos’. It was the Colombian novelist, Virginia Vallejo that brought a claim against the streaming service. She claimed that the show contained specific scenes from her book, ‘Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar’, without her endorsement. The book is about her relationship with the Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.

Vallejo claimed that two specific scenes from season one had infringed her copyright. However, the defendants argued that a broad agreement she had made with film companies had stripped her of any rights she had with the copyright in the works and she therefore did not have the right to take action. The defendants then requested that the case should be dismissed.

Vallejo contended that under the terms of the agreement, the buyers acquired no rights to the copyrights prior to implementing the purchase option. She consequently, held all rights to the memoir when Narcos was released.

Judge Smith, rejected Netflix’s motion to dismiss after ruling that Vallejo had ‘’standing to sue’’. This was because Netflix did not implement the purchase option until December 2015, which was sixteen weeks after the first season of the show was released. This meant that Vallejo still owned the rights, and subsequent copyright of her memoir, until the purchase option was activated.

Even though Vallejo’s claim was valid, Judge Smith ruled that none of the disputed scenes infringed her copyright. Judge Smith said the ‘’atmosphere, or overall feel, of each of the scenes is very different’’. Smith said that Vallejo’s work, ‘’paints a picture of two people holding equal power over each other’’. However, in the show, ‘’Velez [Narcos equivalent of Vallejo] may be a willing participant but she does not hold the power in the relationship. Velez simply submits to Escobar, telling him that she will do anything he wants’’. Judge Smith then ruled the case closed.

Written by Samuel Killoran who is a Law Student at Solent University.

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