Sega released a trailer yesterday for the new Hatsune Miku game, Project Diva X, but if you live in the United States, it's blocked on YouTube. This isn't new. Rather, it's part of an unfortunate but increasingly predictable pattern of Japanese companies butting heads with the world's largest video service.
Hatsune Miku is not a real person — she's a vocaloid character. Since I had to explain what a vocaloid was to Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo this morning, I might as well do it here, too. The term "vocaloid" comes from a voice synthesiser program called Vocaloid that allows for synthesizing music by typing the lyrics and melody. Hatsune Miku, whose voice is based on Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita, was not the first Vocaloid character, but she's certainly the most popular.
You, like me, might not have really paid attention to Hatsune Miku until she showed up in late 2014 on the Late Show with David Letterman, of all places.
What a world we live in.
The last few years, Sega has partnered with Crypton Future Media, creators of Hatsune Miku, to produce a series of popular music rhythm games. Though Hatsune Miku — and vocaloids, really — haven't caught on as much in the West, Sega has continued to bring the games over for a niche but passionate audience.
Project DIVA X, the latest in the series, arrives next March on Vita and sometime in fall 2016 on PlayStation 4. It hasn't been announced for release outside of Japan yet, explaining why Project DIVA X's latest trailer was only distributed on Sega's Japanese Hatsune Miku channel. But as I mentioned before, if you happen to live in the US, there's no way to even watch the video over there.
If that plays, hooray! If it doesn't, you're seeing with a line about how "this video contains content from incstoenterinc. It is not available in your country."
Incstoenter, a Japanese music manufacturer, is blocking this. Sega does not own the rights to Hatsune Miku's music — they're merely licensing it — which means it's up to the copyright holders to determine how it's used on YouTube, too.
As someone who's in the US, when I visit Incstoenter's YouTube page, I can't even see the two videos the company's channel should have listed. It's blank.
What's going on here? It's difficult to say, since not many people are talking. Sega didn't respond to my request for comment, nor did YouTube. I've also sent a request to Crypton, but as of this writing, they haven't gottem back to me.
That said, there are some clues.
On October 25, the vocaloid community started noticing videos were disappearing on YouTube, despite no formal announcement of any changes.
Something very specific happened a few days earlier: the announcement of YouTube Red. On October 21, YouTube revealed the company's subscription service, which removes ads and allows for the viewing of videos offline. It was a controversial change that rattled a bunch of YouTube creators, though it's too early to know what impact YouTube Red will truly have on the creative scene.
Japanese music companies, notorious for enforcing copyright, have long had a contentious relationship with YouTube. In October, I reported on the ridiculous streaming restrictions attached to Dragon Quest Heroes, which banned players from Twitch streaming with the music on. Square Enix only cleared the music rights for YouTube — Twitch streamers could be hit with a copyright violation.
(So far as I know, this never become a real issue for Twitch streamers, but still.)
Vocaloid fan site Vocalid News Network noticed several prominent record labels suddenly had videos disappearing for anyone in the US. Per a story last month:
However, as many U.S. VOCALOID fans have noticed, the transition isn't going as smoothly as Google likely expected it would. Huge labels such as Exit Tunes, UMAA, and Sony Music Japan are all either empty or missing quite a few newer videos. This is due to YouTube Red requiring all monetized channels to agree to the new Terms of Service brought on by YouTube Red's changes.
Their own analysis, rooted in covering this community, came to this conclusion:
Many producers feel uncomfortable with the idea of their videos being downloaded, and without specifics on what exactly one can do with these downloaded videos, it makes things even more unnerving. People try their hardest to make sure their work isn't stolen and reprinted and the "you can now download videos!" thing isn't something they're very into.
The consequences have been more widespread than watching a trailer, however.
Froggie is an active member of the youtaite community, which, as Froggie put it to me, is "a coined term that combines YouTube and utaite (歌い手), which is a Japanese term for people who cover songs on Nico Nico Douga."
(Think of Nico Nico as the Japanese YouTube.)
Froggie's YouTube channel, which primarily consists of videos covering anime and vocaloid songs, has more than 11,000 subscribers. She doesn't make money from these videos — it's for fun. Because she's covering vocaloid songs, however, her own videos have also been hidden from anyone viewing YouTube in the US.
"It's true that some of my videos are now blocked in the USA and I get viewers commenting their concerns about it," said Froggie. "Honestly, there's not much I can do about it except upload the videos to an alternate site to accommodate for that."
Uploading elsewhere has been the response by many in the youtaite community.
"From my perspective, the youtaite community has been pretty relaxed about YouTube Red, probably because most of them are also hobbyists," she said. "I feel like it's an apathetic response due to the lack of control over copyright."
Unsurprisingly, this has proved upsetting for many, prompting art like this:
[Image Credit: Oxymoroff]
But for now, there's nothing to do but wait for a bunch of big music companies to strike a deal with YouTube. Whether that will happen sooner, later, or never is anybody's guess, but for the meantime, it's a bummer for US vocaloid fans. Australian fans, however, can continue to listen to Hatsune Miku's dulcet digital tones in peace.