Having run the Permission agency ever since she founded it back in 1995, Lucie Bourgouin has known for a long time that copyright permissions ( better known as licensing) are an important niche branch of the screen industry. More than 20 years after starting her own company, she knows exactly how to make sure that all parties are dealt with fairly when it comes to integrating one creative work into another one.
“When I got my Bachlor of Music at the Université de Montréal, I had no career path in mind,” Bourgouin admits straightaway. She simply went along taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to her. Her expertise was frequently sought, and a few steps later, she ended up managing ancillary/product (or merchandise) rights for Société Radio-Canada. “Radio-Canada even had a record company at the time,” she recalls. “That was in the late 80s.” After running the Crown Corporation’s rights management branch right across the country, her position was eventually cancelled “on account of petty politics.”
“On February 1 of this year, I celebrated 27 years as a copyright negotiator for producers,” she says proudly. “I’ve had clients like Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil. When these people needed a song, I dealt with the release of the copyrights attached to that work.”
In her view, understanding an artistic creation as an indivisible whole is at the very heart of her career. ”You have to understand how people operate,” she says. “You have to know people, show temperament, and be able to understand the sensitivities that are involved for all those having a stake in the work: creators, and all those who wish to use someone else’s creative work.”
To this day, the fuel that drives Bourgouin is a deep respect for the artist standing behind each aspect of a work. “I negotiate on a daily basis with entities that have interests, but I always make sure that everyone gets paid fairly,” she maintains. “If we didn’t have creators, nothing would happen, and I’ve always been on the artists’ side.”
Since Permission was created in 1995, Bourguoin has been negotiating on behalf of just about everybody, with unsurpassed ardour, and a passion for creative works. And not just musical ones, but also paintings, or books that people wanted to turn into TV series. She always knows the real value of a work of art, and how to help all parties reach an agreement that’s satisfactory for all involved. “I’ve even negotiated a Picasso work. And what a trip that was!” she recalls.
Also in charge of negotiations for the archive of the TV show Les enfants de la télé, she only brings up a single example when asked what was, in her view, the greatest thing she’s ever done professionally: “The best calling card I’ve ever got in my life was Jean-Marc Vallée and the film CRAZY,” she says, getting emotional. “That was my career’s top adventure. You rarely get to work together with film producers when you’re negotiating a copyright licence, but Jean-Marc and I worked side by side, all along.” This close partnership turned into a personal friendship. “He’s the only one who ever thanked me on TV. That was during the Jutra Awards show,” she says. “For me, that was a high point in my desire to help people get what they want.”
Over time, music and the way we use it have changed, and Bourgouin’s work has evolved accordingly. The reason why CRAZY stands out stands out so clearly in her mind is that, for the time, there was a monumental number of music copyright licences to be dealt with, as some 20 songs were to be embedded in the soundtrack. “Things are different today,” she added. “I’m working with Xavier Dolan on his next series, and we’re dealing with 52 songs, and counting!”
“All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with some visibility”
In Bourguoin’s view, the lack of experience of some producers is one of the main challenges being faced because of the “magical thinking” some of them are exhibiting. “You can’t get a Beatles song on the cheap, alter the lyrics, and do it all in 24 hours,” she says, as an example. “I have a tremendous amount of contacts and healthy relationships in the industry. You have to, if you want to get all the rest. I obtained the G.I. Joe intellectual property for a film free of charge, provided we didn’t alter that image. We wanted to get “Stairway To Heaven” for Café de Flore, but we failed. We tried everything. My work is filled with lots of small victories, but there are disappointments too.”
Besides securing copyright agreements, Bourgouin also works as a consultant to suggest alternate avenues when plan A fails. “I love working with people who truly respect music,” she says. “Xavier Dolan is one of them. He’s a true music lover, and when there’s not enough money in the budget for a song he’s after, he’ll just pick something else, instead of asking me to negotiate a better price.”
As time goes on with the decline of record sales worldwide, copyright licensing acquires a new meaning. “My profession’s future is hard to predict,” says Bourguoin. “Copyright owners are becoming more demanding, greedier, and that’s normal, seeing as their sources of income are weakening in other areas. All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with a visibility for their songs in our homegrown productions, while making sure we don’t take anything away from film composers.”
Lucie Bourgouin’s success is squarely based on the plethora of relationships she’s developed with rights holders over time. Using psychology, and acting like a career diplomat, she’s spent the past 27 years meeting people half-way, to make sure that every transaction remains a human gesture. “You need a great deal of patience and passion to do my kind of work,” she says. “It’s a long, time-consuming process.” In other words, practice makes perfect.