As a one-woman show, Catherine Conrad has made a living dressed in a banana suit, with a little help from her monkey puppet friend, “Spike.” The trademarked “Banana Lady” sings and dances to songs like the “Banana Shake” and “Shake Your Body.”
But the Wisconsin native has also taken her act to the courts with numerous lawsuits “charging a variety of infringements of her intellectual property rights,” according to an eight-page opinion written by Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The three-judge panel has dismissed multiple cases on the grounds that her claims “had no merit.” “But we cannot end this opinion without remarking on her abuse of the legal process by incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits,” Posner wrote in the opinion, issued Monday.
Conrad, 54, once sued the organizer of an event in which she was to appear for mailing attendees a postcard with a picture of her as the “Banana Lady,” Posner pointed out.
Described as a motivational speaker on her website, www.bananalady.com, Conrad said she has every right to defend herself.
“I have registered trademarks on the ‘Banana Lady’ name and registered copyrights on the image and costume,” she told ABC News today, adding that she has been performing for 27 years. “It is a brand and not just someone in a banana suit, so the courts have got it wrong.”
“When the little guy speaks up, they’re not OK with it. Now the courts are violating my rights,” she said, adding: “This is all about insurance and politics.”
In one specific suit, Conrad was hired to perform a “singing telegram” at a credit union trade association event, Posner noted. Conrad alleged that she told event arrangers that members of the audience were not to take photos or videos of her performance except for their “personal use,” and according to her, “personal use” excludes a person’s Facebook page, according to the court opinion.
She goes further to accuse the arrangers of failing to inform the audience of the limitations to personal use until her performance had ended, by which point, Conrad alleges, the damage had already been done, Posner noted.
On another occasion, Conrad sued someone for declining to post a video of Conrad’s performance after Conrad demanded a $40,000 license fee, Posner wrote. Conrad cited that the act of recording “infringed her copyright even though she had consented to it” at first, Posner wrote. Conrad believes the defendant’s decision to avoid the licensing fee and not to post the video “constituted tortious interference with her business,” the judge wrote in his opinion.
The defendant in this particular case “obtained summary judgment” after 15 months of litigation with the “Banana Lady,” he said.
Conrad has filed at least eight cases in federal court since 2009, and at least nine cases in state court since 2011, according to Posner. That adds up to at least 17 lawsuits Conrad has filed in both state and federal courts since 2009.
The “Banana Lady” has yet to win any judgments, but she did obtain settlements in the first three federal suits that she filed, the judge noted in his opinion.
A defendant in one of the eight federal suits was awarded more than $55,000 in costs and legal fees. Conrad has been sanctioned at least $23,000 in her state court suits, according to the opinion.
At the end of the eight-page opinion, Posner advises that she pay all her litigation debts before considering to file further suits.