Copyright Law

Posner tosses copyright suit by 'Banana Lady,' notes her 'incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits'

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A federal appeals court is apparently worried that frequent lawsuits by a “Banana Lady” plaintiff are tripping up the courts.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not only tossed a copyright infringement suit filed by the pro se plaintiff, Catherine Conrad, but also suggested that a Wisconsin federal court should consider blocking Conrad from filing additional lawsuits until she fully pays her “litigation debts.”

The opinion by Judge Richard Posner said Conrad had abused “the legal process by incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits.”

In the suit before the appeals court, Conrad claimed her copyright was violated by defendants who hired her to deliver a singing telegram dressed as a banana. According to Conrad, the defendants failed to inform audience members until after her performance that they could not take pictures for anything other than personal use. Conrad has copyrights on photos and sculptures of herself in a banana costume, which the court assumed to be valid, and she registered a copyright on her banana costume.

Conrad claimed her copyright was infringed when some people at the event posted photos online. But there is no evidence those photos were posted before the defendants’ warning was delivered, and the suit is without merit, Posner concluded.

The April 14 opinion includes a color photo of the costume on page 2, and a link to a YouTube video of Conrad performing the “banana shake.” Josh Blackman’s Blog notes the photo.

Posner said Conrad had filed at least eight federal lawsuits since 2009 and at least nine state court lawsuits since 2011. She obtained settlements in the first three federal suits, but apparently won no judgments in the other cases. She has sued her former lawyers, sued event organizers who put her picture on a postcard to attendees, sued persons who declined to post her video after she demanded a $40,000 license fee, sued her web provider for taking down her website when she didn’t pay her bill, and sued defendants in the case before the 7th Circuit.

Posner said Conrad was ordered to pay $55,000 in costs and fees in another copyright suit, a $23,000 state court sanction and “possibly $73,000 more in one of the suits, though we can’t be sure just why her company was ordered to pay that amount.”

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