Photographer sues French Lick resort over angels paintings

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So much for announcing peace on earth.

Sweet-faced angels from the dome of the historic West Baden Springs Hotel, often trotted out at Christmas time, are now the subject of a lawsuit between the hotel’s owner and the artist who made the paintings.

Pamela Mougin, a onetime Indianapolis photographer who now runs a studio in Colorado, filed suit this month against  French Lick Resort & Casino, which owns the West Baden hotel. She claims the resort has used her images far more broadly than ever agreed to, infringing her copyright.

Mougin wants the resort to pay for its expanded use of the images and cease further use of them.

But a key question is whether Mougin can, in fact, copyright her images, which were based on hundred-year-old originals that adorn the walls of a tiny room at the top of the grand dome in the West Baden hotel.

Indianapolis intellectual property attorney Paul Overhauser said it depends on whether Mougin added any original artistry to the images or just copied them precisely. Mougin in her lawsuit says she photographed the originals at the top of the dome and then created an “archival hand-painted canvas series.”

“It raises an interesting issue into whether she can claim any copyrighted ownership,” Overhauser said, particularly “if she did a precise, as accurate as possible copy of what was already there.”

To have a strong case, Overhauser added, “she would need to make an artistic modification to what was pre-existing.”

There’s not a lot of money at stake, since Mougin was paid $18,500 in 2007 to make the paintings and then another $2,800 for what she describes as a “one-time print agreement only.”

But Mougin claims that one-time agreement includes an acknowledgment by resort officials that she had a copyright to the images. Mougin applied to register a copyright in July 2010.

French Lick Resort used Mougin’s work in 2008 to make a three-dimensional relief of the angels as a base for its Christmas tree, as well as on outdoor banners and on its website, according to Mougin’s lawsuit.

A request for comment from the resort was not answered Friday morning.

Mougin’s attorney, Theodore Minch, of McCordsville, did not respond to a message left for him Friday morning.

Mougin has done racy calendars of Denver Broncos cheerleaders and portraits of pro athletes, including members of the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts, and auto racer Eddie Cheever. Mougin was featured on the cover of Indianapolis Monthly magazine in 1997 and has also given photography lessons at the annual Mickey’s Camp staged by IBJ shareholder Mickey Maurer.



  • Copyright
    As I understand Copyright rules, ALL work is copyrighted at the time it is created. Filing provides the Artist with more protection filing does not create the copyright. I have seen the images that were created by the Artist and believe in no way the work can be considered copies rather than artistic modification to the original images. I agree that this is a case of a very large company attempting to legally steamroll a local Artist.
  • fight injustice, large or small
    From what i have read and understand the artist is only trying to enforce the contractual obligation that was ignored and capitolized on by the resort, a case of big corporate steam rolling over the small business person. We have probably all been a victim of this in some form and have just walked away where in this case the artist is not.
  • Artist comment
    Hi, this is Pamela Mougin. I am the artist that created (not copied) the derivative works in question. Interestingly, the angels in the hotel dome cupula are also derivatives of works in Italy created by Raphael and Fra Angelico. Copyright is very misunderstood in most industries from music, photography, painting and literature. I'm not fighting anyone, I'm simply upholding my industry standards and the ethics of ASMP. I would not be a good role model nor example to my fellow artist otherwise. For the record," I did not" take the angel series down from the lobby, the hotel did. No one knows why because that display of my handpainted works is not in question. That commission was completed during the hotel opening and paid for in full. This case is about a breach of contract that happened in 2008. I have been attempting to resolve it ammlicably since that time, only to discover ongoing infringements and breaches. As for working again, I'm down to my A+ list now that I'm in my 26th career year, my clients are just as much chosen my me as I am by them. And if I ever made an exception, I certainly would only do business with a client who understand and respects my work, which, yes, is Copyrighted when it is created. ( just FYI...Registration is just an additional
    protection.) Its a real exception for me to take on any
    new clients as the work I currently have will take me the next two years to complete. Besides....I have a children's treehouse project for charity to work on now, so no thanks to any job offers, I'll be busy being a
    good mentor by teaching children how to be smart artist, builders, writers and find their own hearts
    passion. Pamela Mougin/ photographic artist
  • Really?
    Wait...this lady took photos of someone else's art, painted copies of the photos, and sold her 'art' for US dollars...but now doesn't want them to be displayed in the very place from where she photographed/copied the art? If I buy art, there is a law regarding where I can display it, and for how long? I don't think so. This lady is wasting money she obviously needs on attorneys, and the attorneys are glad to take that money and run.
    • Copywright Misunderstood
      I once thought any journalist would at least have a very basic understanding of copyright because it is so critical to the journalism profession. The writer states: "Mougin did not apply for a copyright until July 2010. Her lawsuit does not claim that she has been granted a copyright." In fact, ALL work is copyrighted at the time it is created -- there is no such thing as being "granted a copyright" in the way that one can be "granted a patent", for example. Filing your work with the Library of Congress within a specified period strengthens your copyright and provides added legal protections -- but that filing does not create the copyright . . . copyright is created when the work is created. AGAIN -- I am disappointed that a journalist would lack this basic understanding that is so critical to a writer's craft.
    • uhhh...
      you cant sue for overuse of appropriated source material. thats like prince paul going after someone for sampling beats he sampled from james brown. ish dont fly that way.
    • Not a chance
      She copied another artists work, if anybody should be sued, it is she.
    • a cold day in @#$
      Do you really think she has a chance. Ask Lauth. You better be ready to fight if you are going against Cook. I guess she doesn't want to work here anymore.

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