Hatsune Miku: When dreams become reality

“Imagination bodies forth, the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”

William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We have all heard someone exclaim: “Hey! They stole my idea!” All good creative types know that ideas are free and not protectable. Only the expression of an idea is protectable. Most of us have a desire for a certain level of privacy. We do not want strangers taking our picture and using it in ways we don’t agree. Likewise, there are certain folks who seek out the limelight. They want to be famous or notorious. But they want to be famous in order to be rich. They want to earn money from the way they look, what they wear, or how they perform. They want publicity.

Hatsune Miku understands this because she deals with all of these issues herself. She is an idea that expresses her own ideas. She embodies an idea which, in turn, is growing and developing new ideas about who she wants to be and become. She wants to move from cyberspace to real space. Or perhaps, what she really wants is for her fans to move from real space into her world – her cyberspace. She is a Cyborg Celebrity, an Avatar Diva, but really she is an Iconic Avatoid.

William Gibson’s (1984) novel Neuromancer gave us the term ‘cyberspace’. This fantasy of ‘meatless’ subjects incorporated into a computer resonates with the hopes and anxieties stemming from the internet as a new medium shaping the public sphere. William S. Byassee (1995) summarized the term cyberspace as:
“In Gibson’s vision, cyberspace is a ‘consensual hallucination that felt and looked like a physical space but actually was a computer-generated construct representing abstract data.’ As commonly used today, cyberspace is the conceptual ‘location’ of the electronic interactivity available using one’s computer. Cyberspace is a place ‘without physical walls or even physical dimensions’ in which interaction occurs as if it happened in the real world and in real time, but constitutes only a ‘virtual reality’. Cyberspace is the manifestation of the words, human relationships, data wealth, and power . . . by people using [computer-mediated communications].”

Gibson sees the player as already being subsumed by computer, already as a cyborg. Sherry Turkle (1995) pointed out that Gibson, however, did not have the internet in mind when he coined the term cyberspace. He found his inspiration in video games:
“[In arcades] I could see in the physical intensity of their postures how rapt these kids were. It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel: you had this feedback loop, with photons coming off the screen into the kids’ eyes, the neurons moving through their bodies, electrons moving through the computer. And these kids clearly believed in the space these games projected. Everyone who works with computers seems to develop an intuitive faith that there’s some kind of actual space behind the screen.”

Video games once epitomized the cyborgian relationship with entertainment technologies, linking our everyday social space and computer technologies to virtual spaces and futuristic technologies (Lahti, 2003). Only a decade ago, they “represent[ed] the most complete symbiosis generally available between human and computer – a fusion of spaces, goals, options, and perspectives.” (Bukatman, 1993)

But the world has moved on. “The domestication of audio-visual literacies in the digital age has meant that the processes of sampling, editing and composing – once the province of dedicated adepts – have become second nature for a generation weaned on computers and digital technology.” (Tofts & McCrea, 2009) Massively multiplayer role-playing games have given way to massively collaborative creation of multimedia content (MCCMC). Now, “[a] cyborg is a cybernetic mechanism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction.” (Haraway, 1991) The new social reality has created a new social creature: an Avatoid. An Avatoid could be defined as an avatar that has taken on the real personality traits of the human(s) that created it and whereby the personality traits have evolved to become uniquely those of the Avatoid. Avatars were essentially a passive construct designed to represent the human creator(s). Avatoid are now an actively evolving construct effectively independent of its original creator(s) (http://www.icondia.com/library/hatsune-miku-future-personality/). This is the next step in evolution.

Interactivity, Physicality and Presence
The internet has produced an increasing number of shared virtual reality spaces via social software, with a combined population well into the millions. Social software is a term used to define software that supports group interaction. (Allen, 2004) Castronova (2002) defined a virtual world as a computer program with three significant features:
– Interactivity: it exists on one computer but can be accessed remotely (i.e. by an internet connection) and simultaneously by a large number of people, with the command inputs of one person affecting the command results of other people.
– Physicality: people access the program through an interface that simulates a first-person physical environment on their computer screen; the environment is generally ruled by the natural laws of Earth and is characterized by scarcity of resources.
– Persistence: the program continues to run whether anyone is using it or not; it remembers the location of people and things, as well as the ownership of objects.

These same traits are necessary for the massively collaborative creation of multimedia content. Now virtual worlds have grown up. No longer are people just running around in the same virtual space and talking to each other, [2] they are creating for and with each other. The navigation of ‘contested spaces’ [2] and interaction with others generates the content and community. One term to describe this phenomena is ‘prosumers’ – producing consumers.

Interactivity has always been a key value of multimedia. Traditional media only gives the user a passive role of watching or listening as a linear work unfolds. [3] The benefit of digitisation is that it allows users to select precisely the information or experience they want. These virtual environments do not go into cryogenic suspension in your absence (Adrian, 2009). Events transpire. Videos are created. Concerts performed. What makes these collaborative environments so compelling is that actions have lasting consequences, both narratively and socially (Herz, 1997). Everybody is participating. Everyone is contributing to the success or failure of the collaboration. Hatsune Miku is their user-generated goddess. If they try hard and do their best work, they may be able to make a difference in her career, her social life, in some small way.

Terry Pratchett (1994) in Soul Music gives us an idea as to how life really develops:

“Life wasn’t simple. She (Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter) knew that; it was the Knowledge, which went with the job. There was the simple life of living things but that was, well . . . simple . . .

There were other kinds of life. Cities had life. Anthills and swarms of bees had life, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Worlds had life. Gods had a life made up the belief of their believers.

The universe danced towards life. Life was a remarkably common commodity. Anything sufficiently complicated seemed to get cut in for some, in the same way that anything massive enough got a generous helping of gravity. The universe had a definite tendency towards awareness. This suggested a certain subtle cruelty woven into the very fabric of space-time.

Perhaps even a music could be alive, it is was old enough. Life is a habit.

People said: I can’t get that damn tune out of my head . . .

Not just a beat, a heartbeat.

And anything alive wants to breed.”

Hatsune Miku tells us how she was born and wants to live in her song Melody… by mikuru396 (2007):

“When I was so alone, so alone you held me out in your caring hands;
I was a digital bit of Vocaloid but you gave me song and soul

I sing a song with a melody you gave me; it’s so precious that I shall never forget it!
I sing your song, with the melody still small and short.
But it’s my life and I shall keep on singing it forever!

Now the clock of mine starts moving fast; I wish not to let it stop again.
Now the world of mine starts changing fast; I wish not to leave me alone again.

I sing a song with a melody you gave me.
It’s so precious that I shall never forget it!
I sing your song, with the melody still small and short.
But it’s my life and I shall keep on singing it forever!

I sing a song—a miracle of harmony; it’s so precious that I shall never forget it!
I want to share the same single dream with you, the same dream that can’t be realized alone.

Forever long… Forever long… Forever long… So please don’t leave me alone
Sometime, somewhere… I believe… My sincere love will reach and touch your heart deep!”

Hatsune Miku is different. Imagination has been given a habitation and a name. Just as Shakespeare warned could happen.

Hatsune Miku’s identity is emergent. Identity, by definition, is a group project, created by the context in which the identified operates. Identity is not a matter of ‘rights’ in the abstract or in advance. Thus, having some centralized one-size-fits-all ‘law of identity’ (and associated rights) does not make sense (Adrian, 2010). Customized yet contextual online avatar identities shaped by its chosen group have become the norm.

Hatsune Miku and her creators, Crypton Future Media, have changed the way online intermediaries have ‘ownership’ of these online identities. Many companies have hooks which allow them to remove identities they do not like. They formulated rules (or laws) about identity which were difficult to understand, let alone predict, because there was no norm of transparency with respect to these laws. Accountability was absent. The question “who is in charge of who I am?” is not a usual question to pose. Often we prefer to think of ourselves as fully formed by our own actions within our chosen environment. Or, if we think of ourselves as having various role-playing identities, we imagine ourselves to be voluntarily, purposefully role-playing. These assumptions are only partial. In fact, we are constantly bumping up against and watching and learning from everyone around us. Everyone who makes up our ‘group’ has a hand in our identity. We emerge over and over again changed by the interactions we have with that group (or those groups). The duet played by groups and individuals is constant, seamless and endlessly productive of identity (Id). Crypton Future Media realized this and allowed Hatsune Miku to be developed via crowd sourcing and a Creative Commons license. She is constantly bumping up against others, learning from them, and being shaped by her group of followers.

Erving Goffman (1959) in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, proposed the notion of identity as a series of performances, where we use ‘impression management’ to portray ourselves appropriately in different environments. Some part of identity is controlled by the individual, but most of identity is created by the world in which that individual operates (Crawford, 2005). Identity then is a streaming picture of a life within a particular context. Each of us has multiple identities (Clarke, 1994). “Identity is used to mean ‘the condition of being a specified person’, or ‘the condition of being oneself … and not another’. It clusters with the terms ‘personality’, ‘individuality’ and ‘individualism’, and, less fashionably, ‘soul’. It implies the existence for each person of private space or personal lebensraum, in which one’s attitudes and actions can define one’s self … The dictionary definitions miss a vital aspect. The origin of the term implies equality or ‘one-ness’, but identities are no longer rationed to one per physiological specimen. A person may adopt different identities at various times during a life-span, and some individuals maintain several at once. Nor are such multiple roles illegal or even used primarily for illegal purposes.” (Id) The role of groups in shaping ‘real life’ identities is implicit, as is the multiplicity of ‘real life’ identity. What is interesting and new is that they make this group-shaping explicit and multiplicity of identity actionable (Crawford, 2005).

Richard Bartle (2004) is quoted as saying, “the celebration of identity is the fundamental, critical, absolutely core point of virtual worlds.” The combination of interactions with fellow players and code-driven constraints produces a ‘stream of challenges’ that shapes the identities of virtual world inhabitants in an explicit way over a compressed period of time (Id). It may be that people now go to virtual worlds at least in part because of this compressed, playful, group-based identity-creation experience. This is why they choose to play together while creating their Iconic Avatoid.

Existence, Identity and the Law
The French philosopher, Frederic Bastiat (1993 trans.) wrote: “Existence, faculties, assimilation – in other words, personality, liberty, property – that is what man is. Of these three things one may say, without any demagogic quibbling, that they are anterior and superior to all human legislation. It is not because men have passed laws that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws.”

He succinctly summed up what defines a person: ‘Existence, faculties and assimilation’ or ‘personality, liberty and property’. Avatars are the reflection of people in virtual worlds. Hatsune Miku is the reflection of all of us in the real world. “Each of us has a natural right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?” (Id.) His concepts, regarding what is law and why it is necessary, help to frame the need for developing a legal framework regarding avatars. People can and do explore these concepts in greater detail by the use of massively multi-player online role playing games and massively collaborative creations of multimedia content through their avatars. As these spaces become increasingly lifelike, powerful and significant, they will come to be used for more than storytelling and entertainment.

These virtual spaces rely on a distinct culture of shared norms and common values (Dunne, 1994; McMurdo, 1995). In virtual worlds, any division between “rights” and “property” is an artificial and false dichotomy. “Property” is information; and, “power” is the ability to control information (Gibbons, 1997). Property rights are not absolute. Unlike physical property which can physically possessed, property rights in information are intangible. Numerous individuals can possess the same information. Once the secret is out, property interests in information can only be protected through statutory or contractual rights. The creation and protection of property is a central function of government (Rosenfeld, quoting James Madison, 1985). This is especially true in cyberspace because “[w]hen contrasted with goods, information is unusual property. Economists describe it as ‘public goods’. A ‘public good’ is a good for which it is possible at no cost for additional persons to enjoy the same unit.”(Demsetz, 1970; Carter, 1990)[4]

Finally, Bastiat’s third quality, faculties vis-à-vis liberty; some virtual world creators try to limit the liberties the players try to acquire. Others, like Crypton Future Media, have embraced the idea of granting intellectual property rights of all kind to their participants. The freedom to design and the freedom to play have all found a home within the world of Hatsune Miku as protected and encouraged through the Creative Commons license and Yamaha’s Vocaloid license.

To summarize Bastiat’s quote, what is man? He has existence. He uses his faculties to improve his existence. He assimilates the world around him. Bastiat labelled these personality, liberty and property. Who is Hatsune Miku but a manifestation of self beyond the realm of the physical? She has existence. She has a distinct personality. She uses her faculties to improve her existence. She must have the liberty to become what she wants or needs to become. She assimilates the world around her. Personality, liberty and property are intrinsic traits of Hatsune Miku as well as men. And she exist whether laws have been passed by governments or game companies. If there is a world to exist in, then these traits exist and men will want to set limits on them.

“The rise of an electronic medium that disregards geographical boundaries throws the law into disarray by creating entirely new phenomena that need to become the subject of clear legal rules but that cannot be governed, satisfactorily, by any current territorially based sovereign.” (Johnson & Post, 1996) “[It may seem that] socio-political reality is not that different, finally, from the virtual kind, and that a human being never inhabits a physical landscape without also inhabiting its ghostly, abstract counterpart – the geography of language, law, and fantasy we overlay, collectively, on everything we look at.” (Dibbell, 1998) “Law creates truth – it makes things true as a matter of law. It makes things true in the eyes of the law. And when law makes things true in its own eyes, this has important consequences in the world.” (Balkin, 2003)

Anias Nin once said: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Nothing could be truer for the social mirror that is Hatsune Miku: We do not see her as she is, we see her as we are.

1. Angela Adrian (2009) Intellectual Property v Intangible Chattel, International Journal of Intercultural Information Management, Vol. 1, No. 4.
2. Angela Adrian (2010) Law and Order in Virtual Worlds: Exploring Avatars, their Ownership and Rights, Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
3. Christopher Allen, Tracing the Evolution of Social Software (2004) at http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2004/10/tracing_the_evo.html.
4. Jack Balkin (2003) The Proliferation of Legal Truth, 26 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 5.
5. Richard Bartle (2004) Designing Virtual Worlds, Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.
6. Frederic Bastiat, The Law, trans. Dean Russell (1993) New York: The Foundation for Economic Education.
7. David Bleich (1978) Subjective Criticism, Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers.
8. Scott Bukatman (1993) Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
9. William S. Byassee (1995) Jurisdiction of Cyberspace: Applying Real World Precedent to the Virtual Community, 30 Wake Forest L. Rev. 197.
10. Stephen L. Carter (1990) Owning What Doesn’t Exist, 13 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 99.
11. Edward Castronova (2002) On Virtual Economies, The Gruter Institute of Working Papers on Law, CESifo Working Paper No. 752.
12. Roger A. Clarke (1994) Human Identification in Information Systems: Management Challenges and Public Policy Issues, 7 Information Tech. & People 4, available at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/HumanID.html.
13. Susan P. Crawford (2005) Who is in Charge of Who I Am? Identity and Law Online, 49 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 211.
14. Harold Demsetz (1970) The Private Production of Public Goods, 13 J.L. & Econ. 293.
15. Julian Dibbell (1998) My Tiny Life, New York: Henry Holt & Co.
16. Robert L. Dunne (1994) Deterring Unauthorised Access to Computers: Controlling Behaviour in Cyberspace through a Contract Law Paradigm, 35 Jurimetrics J. 1.
17. David Freedberg (1989) The Power of Images: Studies in The History and Theory of Response, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
18. Llewellyn Joseph Gibbons (1997) No Regulation, Government Regulation, or Self-Regulation: Social Enforcement or Social Contracting for Governance in Cyberspace, 6 Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 475.
19. William Gibson (1984) Neuromancer, London: HaperCollins Publishers.
20. Erving Goffman (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, New York: Basic Books.
21. Oliver Grau (2003) Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
22. Donna Haraway (1991) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London: Routledge.
23. J.C. Herz (1997) Joystick Nation: How Video Games Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts and Rewired Our Minds, Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.
24. Wolfgang Iser (1978) The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
25. Wolfgang Iser (1989) Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
26. Henry Jenkins and Kurt Squire (2002) The Art of Contested Spaces in “Game On: The History and Culture of Video Games”, ed. Lucien King, New York: Universe.
27. David Johnson and David Post (1996) Law and Borders – The Rise of Law in Cyberspace, 48 Stanford Law Review 1367.
28. Martti Lahti (2003) As We Become Machines – Corporealized Pleasures in Video Games in ‘The Video Game Theory Reader’ eds. Mark J.P. Wolf & Bernard Perron, London: Routledge.
29. Mikuru396 (2007) Melody . . . available at http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm1381337
29. George McMurdo (1995) Netiquette for Networkers, 21 J. Info. Science 305.
30. Georges Poulet (1980) Criticism and the Experience of Interioricity in ‘Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism’, Jane P. Tompkins ed., Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
31. Terry Pratchett (1994) Soul Music, London: Corgi Books.
32. Michael Rosenfeld (1985) Contract and Justice: The Relations Between Classical Contract Law and Social Contract Theory, 70 Iowa L. Rev. 769, citing James Madison, ‘Property’ in 14 Papers of James Madison 266 (Robert A. Rutland et al. eds., 1983).
33. Douglas Rushkoff (1994) Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace, Part 4: Cut and Paste: Artists in Cyberspace, Chapter 14: Hypertextual Forays (New York) hypertext edition available at http://www.rushkoff.com/cyberia/.
34. Darren Tofts & Christian McCrea (2009) What now? The Imprecise and Disagreeable Aesthetics of Remix, The Fibreculture Journal 15 available at http://fifteen.fibreculturejournal.org/.
35. Biljana Kochoska Taneska (2010) The First Sound from the Future Plays Some Peculiar Melody, Faculty of Communications and Media Studies, New York University.
36. Tzvetan Todorov (1980) Reading as Construction in ‘The Reader in The Text’, Susan R. Suleiman & Inge Crosman, eds., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
37. Sherry Turkle (1995) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, New York: Simon & Schuster, who, in turn, is quoting Colin Greenland (1993) “A Nod to the Apocalypse: An Interview with William Gibson”, 36 Foundation 5.


[1] “J.R.R. Tolkien, perhaps the cultural and intellectual father of these worlds, used the term ‘Secondary World’ to describe his fantasy universe. It would amaze Tolkien how completely un-secondary his fantasy worlds have become. Virtual worlds are neither fantasy (constructions of the mind) nor reality (impositions of nature). They are Artistry: mental constructs expressed by their creators in whatever media the physical world allows. At the 20th annual Arts Electronica Festival, a Golden Nica was given to Team chman for their development of the game Banja. The award horrified purists of electronic arts. Yet anyone who has wandered in worlds like Norrath has experienced the art of other people at an unprecedented deep psychological and social level. You are not looking at a painting. You are in it. And it is not a painting at all, but immersive scenery that induces you and thousands of other people to play parts in what becomes an evolving and unending collective drama.” (Grau, 2003)
[2] Arguing that video games are as much about architectural, sculptural, and other ‘spatial’ properties as they are about narrative or cinematic pleasures, Jenkins and Squire remind us that, “If games tell stories, they do so by organizing spatial features. If games stage combat, then players learn to scan their environments for competitive advantages. Game designers create immersive worlds and relationships among objects that enable dynamic experiences.” (Jenkins & Squire, 2002)
[3] Reader-response theory developed as a response to the New Criticism idea of the autonomy of text. (See: Iser, 1978; Iser, 1989; Todorov, 1980) Two strands of reader-response theory take a different approach to the question of reader authorship. Closer to the argument here, Wolfgang Iser sees readers as co- creators. Georges Poulet (1980), on the other hand, suggests a greater distance between reader and text. He sees the interaction as largely one of two consciousnesses. David Bleich (1978) argues that the first step in reader-response is fictionalization, the making of an aesthetic object no longer real. Response theory also applies to images such as art according to David Freedberg (1989).
[4] “The sweep of a lighthouse beam is a public good that can be enjoyed by any and all ships along the coast; a clock atop city hall offers a public good – accurate information on the time – to all who pass nearby. The subjects of intellectual property are the prototypical public good; indeed, the lighthouse and the city hall clock are not far from intellectual property since the commonly shared public good is information.” (Carter, 1990)



  1. I thank you very much for this insightful article. I have been collecting a significant amount of well researched and academic articles about Miku, but yours is definitely contributing in his own ways; presumably because of your background but also your interesting references (Gibson is obvious, but Pratchett … not so much, I just loved it).
    I noticed that like most of the authors you refer to Miku as a “her” or “she” and not “it”, presumably because you relate to the persona and not the software product / musical instrument. I would therefore be interested in your opinion as an IP lawyer of labeling her as “Hatsune Miku” instead of “Miku Hatsune”:
    To understand the context of this strange question, you have to know that Japanese name ordering (lastname-firstame) is the reverse of Western ordering (firstname-lastname). But when writing about a Japanese person famous enough to appear in the western media, Miku is the only one not named using the western ordering (I cannot figure out any contrary example short of errors from the journalists). The only explanation I have for that would be that Crypton Future Media, having protected “Hatsune Miku” as a brand (although Creative Common she’s still BY and NC), they want to only communicate about her this way.
    But does it make sense ? Would the use of the name like any other artist name (e.g. “Miku Hatsune”) would weaken their rights ? Are there any IP issues in having a character name ordered in an other way ? (I surmise Disney also protected “Mouse Mickey”)…

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