By: Chris Freiberg
Valparaiso University Law School
J.D. Candidate, 2015
In a scathing judicial opinion published Monday, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner not only dismissed the copyright lawsuit of a woman in a giant banana costume, but also wrote that federal courts in Wisconsin should consider enjoining her from filing any more frivolous lawsuits.
Catherine Conrad is a woman from Madison, Wisconsin who makes her living singing and dancing in a banana costume, which is something I didn’t know was a legitimate career choice until Monday, but now has me reconsidering my decision to go to law school.
The defendant, AM Community Credit Union, hired Conrad to perform a singing telegram at a trade show.
Conrad, pursuing the case pro se, claimed the defendants failed to tell the audience any pictures they took of her were only for personal use; she even considered posting pictures on Facebook to be a violation of her copyright.
In an eight-page opinion (which includes an awesome picture of Conrad in her banana costume), Judge Posner tears Conrad’s arguments apart under well-settled law that her performances cannot be copyrighted; Posner argued, had she recorded her performance or had a written “dance notation”, it may have passed for a copyrightable medium of expression. Conrad also failed to prove she had a copyright claim on pictures of her performing because it was unlikely the defendants created a derivative work with some element of originality.
While not ruling on Conrad’s copyright of her own personal banana costume, the opinion does note the court’s surprise at discovering just how common banana costumes are, citing a Google search.
Judge Posner then laid the smackdown on Conrad for the 17 frivolous lawsuits she filed in state and federal courts since 2009, noting that she has racked up an impressive $150,000 in judgments and sanctions against her.
“She once sued event organizers who mailed persons attending the event a postcard that had a picture of her in her banana costume,” Posner wrote. “On another occasion she sued persons who videotaped her performance but declined to post the video on their website after she demanded a $40,000 license fee.”
The judge concludes what might be the greatest judicial opinion of all time by telling the Western District of Wisconsin that it should consider barring Conrad from filing further lawsuits until she can settle her legal debts.
This is normally where I would ask if people agree with the court’s decision or not, but I think the only question that can be asked here is how amazing was Judge Posner’s opinion?