Hatsune Miku Paradox

The “birth” of Hatsune Miku began in the year 2000 when Vocaloid (Vocal plus Android) technology was developed through a collaborative research project between Yamaha Corporation and Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. Vocaloid technology is a software product that allows the user to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and a melody. Yamaha Corporation backed the research project financially and developed the technology into a commercial product that was originally only available in English and Japanese. The first commercial product was announced to the public in 2003 in Germany. Yamaha proceeded to update this software to Vocaloid 2 in 2007 and Vocaloid 3 which was expected to be released in September of this year.

Crypton Future Media is the creator of Hatsune Miku. The corporation is located in Sapporo, Japan and was established in 1995. They produce media such as Hatsune Miku but also provide online shopping services and mobile content for devices such as iPad and the iPhone. The first Vocaloid that Crypton produced was Meiko in 2004 and subsequently Kaito in 2006. These Vocaloids did not attain the incredible popularity that Hatsune Miko has received. Hatsune Miko utilizes the Vocaloid 2 technology. The artist, KEI, illustrated Miku. It took KEI more than a month to create the “pop idol” Miku. The challenge to the artist was the conception of a “singing computer”. Miku’s color scheme was based on Yamaha’s signature blue-green color and the bars on her skirt and boots represent the actual musical bars in the program.

Hatsune Miku has become an incredible hit and is certainly not merely music software. As of 2008, a short year after her release there were 30,000 songs and movies that had been posted on YouTube and Japan’s Nico-Nico-Douga, video sharing websites. In the first 12 days of Miku’s release, 3000 reservations for the software were placed with Crypton. Crypton was unable to keep up with the demand for the product. Amazon.co.jp reported that the initial sales of the software totaled 57,500,000 yen. It is estimated that 60,000 units of the product were sold in the first year. ‘Good” business for the Vocaloid industry was considered to be 1000 units per year. Hatsune Miku was the first in Crypton’s “Character Vocal Series” which had an impact on the use of ‘avatars’ by other companies working with the Vocaloid technology. The tremendous success of Miku has made Crypton the industry leader in Vocaloid development.

The popularity of the Hatsune Miku image is evident in the number of corporations that have paid to utilize her. In 2008, Nintendo included her as one of the characters in the video game 13-sai no Hellowork DS or (Job Placement for the Age of 13). Playstation has also developed games where Hatsune Miku is the star; these include Hatsune Miku Project Diva and Diva 2nd. Good Smile Racing has sponsored several Super GT racing teams that have featured illustrations of the Hatsune Miku image on their cars. These include Team Studie in 2008 and 2009 with a BMW Z4 E86, and Team COX in 2010 which depicted her image on the Porsche 996 and 997 GT3-R. Toyota has also purchased the rights to use the image to promote the Corolla in 2011. She is also displayed on the official Toyota website.

It is not just corporations that have sought to cash in on the popularity of Hatsune Miko. In 2009 a Japanese petition was circulated to have a custom–made aluminum plate bearing the image of Miku attached to the Venus spacecraft, Akatsuki. Indeed, Akatsuki was launched on May 21st of 2010 with three aluminum plates containing images of Miku. Kenzo Fujisue, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan attempted to obtain the rights to use the image of Hatsune Miku in his run for a seat in the Japanese House of Councillors. His hope was that the use of her image would appeal to younger voters. Crypton declined the use of Hatsune Miku’s image for political purposes.

The success of Hatsune Miku, a computer generated voice and image has led to many questions concerning copyright laws. Under Japanese law any rights to the music generated by the software belongs to the creator or user of the product, however, the image and name of Hatsune Miku belong exclusively to Crypton. Under the terms of the license agreement, the user of the software may create vocals for commercial or non-commercial use as long as the vocals are not offensive to the public and the image of Hatsune Miku is not placed on any commercial product without Crypton’s consent. Secondary fan artists who render the image of Hatsune Miku are considered to be violators of Japanese copyright laws. This has created controversy as the success of the Vocaloid Miku has also been due to the many renderings placed on video-sharing websites. To allow for the creative development associated with the Vocaloid movement, Crypton has developed Piapro, which is a website where users can post fan-made music, lyrics, and illustrations for non-commercial use only.

It is very interesting that a computer-generated image and voice has become such a dearly-loved and popular ‘idol’ that people clearly identify with emotionally as a tangible being. Hatsune Miku is merely a product created by talented and imaginative software developers and artists. The product and the creators of this product should receive the same protection from copyright laws as the creators of any product. Crypton has reacted to the popularity of Hatsune Miku by providing a means for her fans to express themselves creatively on Piapro. The rise of Hatsune Miku would not have been possible without the popularity of the internet and of social media in communication. The artifacts created by technology and placed on the internet have created the need for further revision and clarification of copyright and fair use laws. In the case of Hatsune Miku, however, the laws are clear. She is a product created by a corporation and should therefore fall under the full protection of copyright laws.