I’ll just go ahead and admit that I had no prior knowledge of Hatsune Miku prior to seeing the name listed in Buzzword.  As I discovered more, I had to fend off my biases with a bullwhip while I tried to figure out what the h-e-double-hockey sticks was going on.  To quote a guy my wife encountered in a theater showing Titanic during the scene of old Rose tossing the necklace into the ocean, “Now why’d you go and do a thing like that?!”

Then, as we self-proclaimed scholars are supposed to do, I began to peel back the layers, and I realized that behind the holographic concert image, this was simply the work of creative people pushing the boundaries of music and entertainment.  Essentially, Vocalizer (the software behind Miku) adds the missing component of digitally created music that applications like Apple’s GarageBand give to instrumental musicians.  Now not only can I pretend to play the piano, guitar, bass, saxophone, marimba, piccolo, and xylophone simultaneously, but I can also pretend to have a Japanese teenager provide vocals!  And you know what…that’s pretty sweet!

More importantly, Vocalizer and GarageBand give me (a non-musician) the ability to connect with others who wish they could produce some kind of hit album that wows the industry and makes me millions.  Well, perhaps that’s a bit far-fetched; however, the idea behind the Creative Commons movement provides the deepest appeal.  This technology is dropped in our laps, and we’re free to create, share, mix, and republish.  For the cost of a computer, the software, and an Internet connection of some sort, I’m instantly a songwriter, performer, and producer.  Oh, the power!

While none of this is necessarily new, the mass popularity of Hatsune Miku is.  If the phenomenon crosses over into English and other languages (not that the Japanese version is underperforming by any means), the recording industry may be faced with another crisis unseen since their (attempted) conquering of digital music sharing.  In this case, the idea that fan created and freely distributed works could become more popular than acts that the industry spends good money on to produce and promote stands to make the industry increasingly irrelevant.  If students began turning away from the academic library as a repository of sources, then we librarians would be a bit worried!  Ok…that has already started to happen.  In response, however, we shifted our focus from being a product provider to being a knowledge service provider.  Take that undergrads!  Is the music industry nimble (and humble) enough to shift themselves around a new paradigm?  Are they willing to adapt to a changing world of intellectual property?

Nathaniel Noda, an up-and-coming legal scholar in the realm of IP law, tackles some of these ideas in an article regarding fan-created works and existing copyright law.  He proposes a new framework of “interpretive rights” that protects the original creators’ rights but allows fans the ability to build derivative works without fear of reprisal (Noda, 2010).

He begins by framing his argument using Section 107 of U.S. copyright law, which allows for review and criticism.  He clearly states that the law allows these functions so that critics do not need to obtain a license in order to present an argument — a situation fraught with problems particularly of rights-holders likely licensing only favorable reviews.  Section 107 also protects parody of original works so long as the parody does not supplant the original in terms of recognition.  Here, Noda makes his core argument:  by placing a work into the public sphere, an artist relinquishes interpretation rights, and hence, it establishes the right for fans to create interpretive works based on the original.

The author further coins the phrase “creative teleology” to describe a work’s direction whether from the creator or from a fan’s perspective.  He uses the example of the Harry Potter series to demonstrate that while J.K. Rowling had one view of the ultimate path the official story would take, fans inherently had the right to envision their own paths for the narrative once the characters were created for public consumption.  As a result, I must ask if I have the right to rewrite the ending of the series?  Do I have the right to re-edit Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace to remove most of the Jar Jar scenes?  (Hmm…that one’s already been done…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVQdq18RHiA&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL1F4681A6E49D8F33…and George wasn’t happy when it was released for sale on DVD.)

Noda would argue “yes” under his final concept of “canonicity”.  Canonicity refers to the “officialness” of the story presented; therefore, a creator’s works are in the canon of the story.  A fan’s work resides outside of the canon because she does not own the original rights.  Accepting this concept, the creator recognizes that his work retains “creative superiority” (Noda, 2010, p. 147) over anything derived from it, and as such the creator can feel economically secure that his work will reliably outsell a remixed copy.  Noda adds that fans must act responsibly to make the derived work clearly a product of a third-party.

Connecting Noda’s thoughts to Hatsune Miku, the parallels are clear.  To begin, music is music.  There are countless ways to combine musical notes and using publicly released software to compose a piece of music with or without vocals seems logically to be MY work.  If I use Photoshop to touch up a picture I took, does Adobe have rights to it?  Better yet, does Nikon have the rights to it since I used the software on their camera to take it?  I would argue “no”.  I could be wrong.  I hope I’m right.  But, the nature of the Hatsune Miku phenomenon puts creativity in the hands of fans to take a work and reshape it to become something different whether that work is purely musical or combines the music with a video creation that clearly resembles (and is often called outright) “Hatsune Miku”.  And the amazing thing is that Creative Future Media, the creators of Hatsune Miku, are OK with it!  They even created their own version of the Creative Commons license (Piapro Character License – PCL) to protect the ability to spawn other works.

In this respect, I argue that Creative Commons and PCL arguably help to prove the viability of Noda’s interpretive rights framework as a means to promote the expansion of an original idea.  It just takes the liberality and perhaps courage to release your baby — something you love — into the wild.

It’s an idea worth much further exploration integrating support and opposition from a much wider body of research than opinion and Noda, but as I said, these are some initial ramblings.

Noda, N.T. 2010. “Copyrights Retold: How Interpretive Rights Foster Creativity and Justify Fan-Based Activities.” Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law 20 (1): 131–163. (http://works.bepress.com/nathaniel_noda/2/)