As media and technology evolve and become widely available, once tightly-grasped communication channels and tools become devices common to a broad spectrum of consumers. With the increased availability of technology and the greater ease with which to share information and work, intellectual property can be difficult to police, and intellectual property issues become exponentially more complex.


Theoretical Construct for Intellectual Property: Foucault’s Governmentality

Intellectual property in a broader sense may be encompassed by Foucault’s notion of governmentality. Governmentality, per Foucault, is “the art of government,” a powerful system of self-regulation through which a society can govern itself. The concept, which involves a “temporary” government that has a goal of fading into the societal “background” as society becomes capable of regulating itself, takes into consideration population, security, and political economy, most notably. Foucault’s idea of governmentality also includes an idea of limited power and a sense of responsibility on behalf of the governing body to its state, nation, etc., and to itself — a “to thyself be true” philosophy.

Governmentality shapes the relationship between the State and its citizens such that the State must guide its citizens to moral, financial, and familial success, while enabling those citizens to provide for themselves (thus eliminating the need for such a governmental body). Conversely, the citizens must be willing to work for that success, and they must be conscious that the State is striving toward a greater good (which may or may not always be true). Governmentality is a seemingly cyclical concept — as a society rectifies its needs through governmentality, more needs arise, and more governmental influence is required (Lemke 2002).

Intellectual property embodies the governmentality concept with the ever-evolving nature of technology and the varied production of products and ideas. Far from the intellectual property covered by original legislations, like copyright by the Copyright Act of 1790 — even by the Copyright Act of 1976, intellectual property in contemporary society has taken on a life of its own. As technology evolves, so do creativity and methods of creative expression — as well as means of intellectual property rights circumvention. Intellectual property regulations attempt to guide the moral and financial success of citizens of “the State,” protecting the works and rights of creators from the infringement of outside parties. For example, as society rectified the needs of copyright holders in the late 1970s, more needs arose as the result of technological innovations, circumvention procedures, etc., and more governmental influence was required – characteristics framed squarely by Foucault’s governmentality theory. 

A trending intellectual property issue, that embodied by Japanese singing sensation Hatsune Miku, continues to rest on the circumvention side of the governmentality fence, not yet sewn up by the governmental influence side.


Hatsune Miku

Miku and its Vocaloid software throw a proverbial wrench into pursuits of intellectual property rights in today’s society. The voice of the holographic character, which “performs” and “releases” songs for live audiences, was constructed by Crypton Future Media using the Vocaloid 2 speech synthesis engine.

Vocaloid software, developed by Yamaha, is “singing voice synthesis technology” that converts typed music notes and lyrics into singing vocals (Yamaha 2011). To enable the technology to produce realistic vocals for Miku, the Yamaha corporation recorded vocal samples — Japanese phonemes — at a controlled pitch and tone by voice actress Saki Fujita. Combined, these phonemes become spoken words and phrases, and with the addition of the keyboard-like synthesizer, the phonemes become words and phrases sung to a programmed melody (Los Angeles Times 2010).


Miku: Intellectual Property and Legal Issues

Although Crypton Future Media composed a number of songs performed by the Miku voice and character — and logically made or could a profit from the Miku vocal synthesizer — the same Miku voice is available to users of the Vocaloid program. With access to the character’s voice, it is reasonable to believe that software users can reproduce the songs made popular by Miku, and that users may compose songs and pass them off as the original Miku’s. According to the Yamaha website, software users are permitted to develop materials using the “mascots’” vocals as long as they refrain from using derogatory or disturbing lyrics. However, under the terms of the software license, users may not commercially distribute songs as sung by the characters or use the character images on commercial products without the studio’s permission (Yamaha 2011).

The issues that arise concerning Miku’s intellectual property are complicated due to the fact that the character’s singing voice may be replicated by millions of software users, diluting our present expectations of intellectual property and the rights associated with that property. For example, if an everyday music producer could produce a new song using a vocal synthesizer of Madonna’s voice, the song — given its quality and promotion — could rival the legitimate songs created by Madonna herself, cutting into the profits of the original artist, denying certain opportunities to the artist, and affecting the image of the artist, whether or not the music producer uses the piece for profit. The most glaring legal issue concerning the Vocaloid software is that the singing voice is technically someone’s, whether it’s made of  vocals by a collaboration of voice actors and actresses or whether it’s of a single individual’s voice, and perhaps some part of the synthesized vocals must be the voice actors’ intellectual property. Furthermore, Vocaloid pieces, even those that are non-profit, may negatively affect the career of a performer who has provided the voice for the software. No matter how varied the songs are, and whether or not they are distributed by the original artist, listeners will eventually become tired of hearing the original artist’s singing voice. If 30 different songs per week were distributed featuring Madonna’s voice, the novelty of her unique voice would eventually wear off.

The trick to the “governmental influence” side of the Miku issue could become complicated. The more widely dispersed the technology becomes — Vocaloid-esque applications are available from numerous development companies for use by smartphone users — the more difficult it will be to “rein in” legally. Legislative bodies could determine that voice synthesis technologies may only be used in certain non-profit arenas and only to certain extents, but the fact of the matter is that the technology is still available at full capacity to software users, and no matter the legislative influence and intervention, users seemingly will always be able to circumvent the policies and to produce whatever voice synthesis products they please.


 Works Cited

Lemke, Thomas. “Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique.” Rethinking Marxism 14.3 (2002): 49-64. Print.

“Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku takes the stage — as a 3-D hologram”. Los Angeles Times. November 10, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2011.

“Vocaloid”. Yamaha Corporation. Retrieved September 29, 2011.

“Vocaloid FAQ”. Yamaha Corporation. Retrieved September 29, 2011.