Banana Lady Slips Up
Two credit unions and CUNA recently evaded the legal wrath of a female entertainer who sued them, claiming her copyrights were violated when pictures of her wearing a banana costume were posted on Facebook.
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in April that Catherine Conrad, a Madison, Wis., resident known as the “Banana Lady” who performed at CUNA's 2011 CUNA Management School, had no claim in filing against organizers and attendees.
Conrad sued CUNA, two credit unions and at least two individuals, claiming the copyright for her banana routine and costume were violated when attendees posted pictures and videos on Facebook.
The defendants included the $135 million Midcoast FCU of Bath, Maine, and the $122 million AM Community Credit Union of Kenosha, Wis., which was liquidated by the NCUA in 2012. Its assets and members were assumed by the $739 million TruStone Financial Federal Credit Union of Plymouth, Minn.
Although Conrad claimed a variety of infringements of her intellectual property rights when the case was first heard in Wisconsin, a district judge dismissed the case on the ground that the claim had no merit.
Conrad, who’s known for doing the “Banana Shake” and entertaining at children’s parties with her monkey puppet, immediately filed an appeal.
Since federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright laws, Conrad's infringement claims were heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Conrad alleged that she told organizers audience members were not allowed to take photos or videos of her performance except for their personal use, according to court documents.
She further alleged that organizers failed to inform the audience of the limitation to personal use until her performance had ended.
Members of the audience, including some of the people who arranged the singing telegram, took photos and made videos, which they later posted online, according to court records.
The Court of Appeals ruling said Conrad believed, somewhat implausibly, that personal use did not include allowing individuals to post the images on their Facebook pages.
Despite Conrad’s contention that CUNA slipped up by allowing people to post pictures, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that her suit had no merit.
The court also admonished the Banana Lady for filing a bunch of lawsuits (at least eight cases since 2009) in federal court.
She had also filed at least nine cases in state court since 2011, the documents said.
“We cannot end this opinion without remarking her abuse of the legal process by incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits,” the ruling said.
In one case, she sued people who videotaped her performance, but declined to post the video on their website after Conrad demanded a $40,000 license fee, according to court documents.
She also previously sued her web hosting company for taking down her web site after she failed to pay the bill, according to court documents.
The web host had paid $4,000 to compensate Conrad for lost business while the website was down — even though it was down because of her failure to pay, the court ruling said.
She pocketed the $4,000 and sued the web host in state and federal court, the documents said.
The federal court ruling also stated that the Western District of Wisconsin should consider banning her from filing further suits until she pays her litigation debts, including more than $55,000 in costs and fees she had run up during the past few years.
Todd Streeter, a former IT administrator with AM Community who now works as a systems analyst at the $590 million Florida Credit Union in Gainesville, Fla., was one of the defendants in the lawsuit.
Streeter told CU Times he was named in the lawsuit because he sent an email to Conrad after she began threatening to take legal action if anyone posted her photo.
“I was indeed sued personally, but since I emailed my reply from my work address, Catherine went after me and my credit union, eventually adding the woman who booked her, her credit union in Maine, CUNA Management School and the UW Board of Regents since it was hosted in a building on the UW campus,” Streeter said.
“This has been almost three years in the making and has been a bizarre case since day one,” he added. “Her claim about copyright infringement was really odd. No one, and I literally mean no one, posted a picture, video, or anything else about that performance either on the CMS Facebook page, website, or on any credit union website.”
Streeter said Conrad lacked the necessary evidence to substantiate her claim.
“I believe one of the judges asked her to produce evidence we did, in some summary hearing or something, and unsurprisingly, she had nothing because unless she photoshopped something, there is nothing out there,” he said. “We all were told at the end of the performance not to post the videos or any photos so we all obliged.”
Catherine Conrad could not be reached for comment by press time.
Rodney Rigsby, her business manager, said in a phone call that he and Conrad are business partners that share several intellectual properties, including Banana Lady.
"The courts confirmed that we have legitimate copyrights," Rigsby said. "Yet, they won't uphold our right to protect those copyrights. It makes no sense. If you don't protect your copyrighted intellectual property, you lose it. That's what we're trying to avoid."