WI Credit Union Singing Telegram Goes Horribly Wrong

Wisconsin case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Defamation.

Rodney Rigsby and Catherine Conrad v. AM Community Credit Union, et al.. WI defamation

This litigation arose out of a "Banana Lady"(TM) singing telegram delivered at the Credit Union National Association's annual conference in Wisconsin in 2011. Catherine Conrad was contacted by Lori Saucier to perform the telegram to celebrate the birthday of one of the attendees. Conrad admonished Saucier that the "Banana Lady"(TM) character was protected by a federal copyright and trademark, and that no photographs or videos of the "Banana Lady"(TM) could be posted on the internet without payment of a licensing fee. Sauicer agreed, and said that she would let all of the conference attendees know in advance.

Conrad delivered the Banana Lady(TM) telegram as agreed. A good time was apparently had by all of the Credit Unionistas in attendance. But later, Conrad discovered that photos and videos of the performance had been posted on the internet. She requested that Saucier inform all of the conference attendees that they needed to remove those photos and videos immediately. Saucier forwarded this message to all of the attendees.

One of those e-mails went to Todd Streeter, who is the Chief Information Officer of AM Community Credit Union. He fired off an e-mail in which he stated that he didn't take any photos or videos, but that he thought Conrad was using an "overzealous legal approach" that was "both confusing as well as self-defeating." In general, he downplayed the seriousness of "people posting a couple pictures and videos to a Facebook account to celebrate a fun event." He noted that these videos actually enhanced Conrad's exposure and business potential. He noted that none of the attendees made any profit by posting the pictures. He called Conrad's e-mail "rude and overreaching." He said that he would warn others that Conrad's company had "asinine rules" and would encourage them to seek other vendors for their future singing telegram needs.

Conrad responded by filing a lawsuit against Streeter and his employer for defamation. She later added other defendants, including Saucier and CUNA Management School. She added claims for copyright and trademark infringement and invasion of privacy. Dane County Circuit Judge C. William Foust was left to sort out the claims. He ruled that Conrad had failed to state a claim and threw out her case.

In order to established that the "overzealous legal approach" statement was defamatory, Conrad took the logical step of further litigation, and took her case up with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals quickly dealt with the defamation case. The statements were clearly matters of opinion, and would not support a defamation claim.

The court also dealt quickly with the invasion of privacy claim, since there was absolutely no evidence that anyone had used the "Banana Lady"(TM) picture for any advertising or trade purpose. Nor was there any trademark claim, since there was no likelihood of confusion, since potential customers would not make any connection between a banana person and a credit union.

The court of appeals also noted that copyright infringement is a strictly federal matter, and that the state courts are not the proper venue for such claims.

Note: "Banana Lady" is a trademark of Banana Productions and/or Catherine Conrad, and has absolutely no connection with this website or its author. This page is nothing more than a report about a public document issued by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Please don't sue me.

No. 2013AP177 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 20, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

For more information about attorney Clem, please visit his website.
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