As with some of my COMM 881 classmates, I had no idea what or who Hatsune Miku was prior to this assignment. Furthermore, as someone who has very little knowledge of virtual worlds, it took me awhile to get my head around Miku and the MANY creators it took to invent her. If I have this straight… The synthesized voice was created by Crypton Future Media for their Vocaloid software using a Yamaha synthesizer. Crypton sampled Saki Fujita’s voice to create Miku’s voice. Wanting the voice to have a persona, Kei Garo was petitioned to develop an image of Miku, a female android. According to Wikipedia, Miku’s creation beyond voice and appearance is attributed to her fans, who gave her personality and developed her as a character through song and video.
Unlike her animated predecessors, such as Charlie Brown, Miku developed over time through simultaneous production and usage, something Alex Bruns (2007) dubs produsage. Charlie Brown’s appearance, voice, and personality were all the work of Charles Schulz, despite inspiration he may have received from others. Miku is the work of user-led content creation that includes specific companies and individuals as well as countless fans. According to intellectual property laws, Charles Schulz owned Charlie Brown. He created him, developed him and produced him. So, who owns Miku? Crypton, Yamaha, Fujita, Garo, or her fans? Miku has no Charles Schulz.
None-the-less, the question of ownership naturally arises when considering the immense popularity of Miku, who now gives concerts, travels the world, and represents the potential for phenomenal amounts of revenue. On a broader scale, she represents the modern day question of ownership with regard to creations of the mind. Charlie Brown lived in a time when usage of him was limited on several fronts. First, there were fewer technologies with which he could be manifested. Second, intellectual property was more clearly defined, understood, and respected. Third, user-generated or user-led production was unheard of. Miku lives in a time that is quite different. Various technologies make it easy for her to be proliferated, intellectual property laws represent square pegs trying to fit into round holes, and user-generated content is a common practice that is embraced.
As different as Charlie Brown and Miku are and as different as the times in which they were created are, the intellectual property laws governing each is little changed. Intellectual property laws still follow an outdated industrial trichotomy that moves from producer to distributer to consumer (Bruns, 2007). In reality, according to Bruns, user-led content is created in a variety of online environments that range from ad hoc networks to centralized sites of collaborative work to virtually ungoverned spaces. The production of ideas is collaborative and participatory without boundaries between producers and consumers. Instead, participants are both producers and consumers, creating the modern day produsage environment in contrast to the outdated industrial environment.
A produsage environment allows for a character to begin as little more than a predefined person, such as a teenage girl. As this girl is used in other productions, various fans may produce her with a sinister laugh, while others produce her with a sexy laugh. Overtime, one of those laughs may stick and become part of her personality. In building on her developing nature, fans produce her with a catch-phrase to match the laugh. That catch-phrase may stick and a personality unfolds that leads to a certain dialect or accent. No matter the end result, the character or persona is developed over time, through a certain amount of initial trial and error, as the fans collectively decide. Without her fans, Miku would still be a lifeless image, and her voice would not have personality or utility outside of a synthesizing choice. Without life and personality, she would not have her current day success that includes concerts and a devoted fan-base.
The Hatsune Miku paradox is that she would not exist in her current form without any of the involved parties: Crypton, Yamaha, Fujita, Garo, or her fans, individually and collectively. And, if unorganized, unaffiliated entities and individuals, some of whom cannot even be specifically or readily identified, are collaboratively producing a creation of the mind, who owns it? Who is the creator? Who is Miku’s Charles Schulz?
Bruns, A. “Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation.” Paper presented at Creativity & Cognition Conference, Washington, DC, 14 June 2007.