Like many of my classmates I was initially unaware of the Hatsune Miku phenomenon before the start of COMM 881. Even now, having just typed the name “Hatsune Miku” I’m not quite sure how it should be correctly written…should it be considered the name of the computer-generated singer, Hatsune Miku, should it be italicized as one would with a video, or should it be in quotation marks as is the case with individual parts of larger creative works (such as song titles as part of a music album)? After all, this phenomenon seems to fit each of these cases to one extent or another. The character created indeed goes by the name Hatsune Miku. Also, it represents music videos available on, among other platforms, YouTube. Finally, Miku represents one part of the larger production of the music video and appropriately could be listed as part of the whole. For now I’ll stick with the italics as it seems the most appropriate to consider Miku as a production.
A friend of mine recently said something to the effect of “once things are posted online all normal rules of copyright are out the window.” Traditionally, copyrights have been granted to single creators, groups, or entities for text, music, movies, etc. and as such it was relatively straight-forward in litigious matters when an artist or company suspected an outsider of violating copyright law. I am reminded of an example involving Sean “Puff Daddy” (at that time) Combs’ sampling and remake of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to make his hit song of 1997 “I’ll Be Missing You”. Andy Summers, the guitar player for the Police, became very frustrated that Combs had possibly violated copyright by sampling Summers’ guitar tracks for the new song. After some investigation Summers found out that Sting, the singer for the Police, held the copyright to “Every Breath You Take” and had granted Sean Combs the right to sample any part of the song. Even though Combs had not received Summers’ permission to use his guitar parts, he did not need legal permission from Summers (Danielak, 2001).
When the topic of copyright issues comes up it is impossible to look past one of the original Miku YouTube posts CV01 Hatsune Miku – World is Mine Live in HD (1080p 1920 x 1080) in which three different copyrights are posted belonging to SEGA, Crypton Future Media, Inc. (CFM) and SONY Music Label. Perhaps this is necessary because, as I understand it, SONY holds the copyright to the lyrics of “World is Mine” which were written by Ryo (Supercell), SEGA holds the copyright to the holographic image of Miku, and CFM holds the copyright to Miku’s vocaloid-created voice. While the Hatsune Miku phenomenon is a unique one it is certainly not the only ambiguous case for copyrights created by new forms of media. The growing production of Machinima also creates some murky waters for traditional interpretations of copyright (Falkenstein, 2011). Borrowing text, images, video, audio, or combinations of some or all of others’ work to create new adaptations is a relatively new concept. Even though the music industry has dealt with instances of sampling, the open environments of Machinima or Hatsune Miku are more complicated.
The question becomes what happens if SONY, SEGA, or CFM became aware of a Miku use they did not approve of a in an Andy Summers-esque way? In what way would one, or any combination of the three, go about confronting users who violate the multiple copyrights on Miku? Summers hit a dead end with his disapproval of the use of his guitar riff when he found out that Sting was the copyright holder.
Copyright issues arise when outside entities or users want to utilize Hitsune Miku in some capacity, be it the image, the voice, the songs, or some combination of the three. Instances have already occurred involving the spawn of Miku-inspired derivatives; Black Rock Shooter, a character created by Huke with a Vocaloid2 voice and words written by Ryo, may be the most similar and has enjoyed its own commercial success (Noda, 2010). Should the Hatsune Miku creators feel that Black Rock Shooter is an instance of copyright infringement who should pursue it as such? SEGA? CFM? SONY? Since SEGA holds the copyright to the holographic image of Hatsune Miku and not the original artists rendition, I do not believe that SEGA can take issue with the similar look of Black Rock Shooter. After all, clothing lines featuring Black Rock Shooter are not holographic in nature. While CFM software was used to create both Miku‘s and Shooter‘s voices, the voices are merely renditions of the 0’s and 1’s within the lines of code of the program and consequently it would be difficult to argue the voice is in violation of copyright. After all, many websites are designed using the same website design software and as a result they feature similar looks, layouts, and features that the software used to design them is capable of handling. Finally, since songs written for Shooter do not use the same lyrics as the songs written for the Miku character, SONY could not take issue with its commercial success.
Danielak, G. (2001). A piece of time: The Andy Summers timeline. http://web.tiscalinet.it/andatta/timeline.htm.
Falkenstein, J. (2011). Machinima as a viable commercial medium. Journal of Visual Culture, 10(1), 86-88.
Noda, N. T. (2010). Copyrights retold: How interpretive rights foster creativity and justify fan-based activities. Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, 20(131), 1-25.