APEM (the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale) will take advantage of the 2023 Francos to present its Christopher-J.-Reed Award to France Lafleur, who devoted 23 years of her professional life to the music publishing industry, defending the rights of songwriters and composers. The Québec lawyer held several key SOCAN positions, including General Manager of the Quebec and Atlantic region until her retirement in September 2013.

“I must admit, I was quite surprised to learn that I was to receive this honour,” says Lafleur, from her home in the upper Laurentians. “It’s been 10 years since I left the music publishing world. So I asked them, ‘Are you sure? Me?’ They must have kept that award in mothballs all that time. I was floored; it really is a great honour. It’s funny, this must be my year. A month ago, I received a Governor General’s Award for my volunteer work in the area in which I live now.” That honour came after Lafleur devoted the past few years to her community’s environmental protection and economic development initiatives.

The Québec music publishing industry is recognizing Lafleur’s outstanding contributions to the practice and recognition of the music publishing profession. She began her professional career with the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC) before it merged with the Performing Right Organization (PRO) of Canada to create today’s SOCAN.

“When I started in the business, I had just finished law school, and was an intern with a law firm that had SOCAN as a client,” Lafleur recalls. “That’s how I got that position. When I finished law school, I knew nothing about copyright or copyright organizations. At the time, the University of Sherbrooke did not teach copyright or intellectual property. I had no training at all. When I got to CAPAC, they assigned me to copyright, regulations, and tariffs. ‘Here you go,’ they said. Things have changed a lot since then, but that’s how people operated at the time. Of course, I was already keenly interested in music, particularly Québec music, so jumped in. And I loved it!

“One thing that helped me was the fact that the current general manager spoke English, but loved the French,” she says. “It was important for him to have representatives in Québec,” particularly after the 1980 referendum. “He wanted us to be close to the industry people, so he gave me a lot of freedom: he looked after English Canada, and I looked after French Canada,” as manager of CAPAC’s Québec office, in Montréal.

That’s how Lafleur witnessed the creation, in 1990, of SOCAN itself, an organization merging Canada’s two competing performing rights societies. “A daunting task,” she remembers. “Two very different corporate cultures merging into one. That would not be an easy thing, and it actually took a few years before we all felt we were part of the same whole: SOCAN. It was a big step to take, but we all benefitted in the end. Before that, our two organizations were competing before the Copyright Board for tariffs, and there was obviously an easier way to get higher tariffs than by tearing each other apart.”

The publishing industry is also recognizing Lafleur’s efforts to connect internationally with large copyright organizations, and foster co-operation among publishers. As part of the fight for greater recognition of the works of composers, “at the international level, we worked side by side with European and American organizations,” she says. “[Former SOCAN CEO] Michael Rock brought me along to international gatherings. He said, I can’t speak French, but I can connect with English-speaking societies, and you’ll be in charge of the French-speaking ones… That allowed me to find out what was going on elsewhere, introduce international practices, and develop strong links with our partners.”

Before she retired, Lafleur was able to get an insight into the vast upheavals that new technologies were to create in the music industry, “and that was really frightening,” she says. “In hindsight, I think that all of us, the entire industry, waited too long to react” to the de-materialization of music and it’s [free] circulation on the Internet. “We were all so used to the old ways of doing things. While we were trying to find the best possible framework for [the circulation of musical works], we let a lot of things go by.”

Lafleur emphasized the contributions of the association poised to reward her on June 15, 2023. “The creation of APEM was a very good thing,” she says. “Until then, the music publishing profession was poorly understood and often decried – I say that because the publishing profession was misused, for instance, when producers doubled up as publishers. APEM created a framework for the profession, and re-established the prestige of the music publishing profession, and for the better, too. When you have good publishers, they do a good job taking care of songwriters.

“I had lots of fun working in the publishing world. I met so many great and interesting people! You know the feeling, when you’re working, and don’t feel this is work. I did work hard, though, giving my 200 percent. I travelled a lot, but I always felt I was being useful. That’s the thing that inspired me: knowing I was helping someone.”