Senators and Copyright Office Want Streaming Piracy Loophole Fixed

Senators and Copyright Office Want Streaming Piracy Loophole Fixed

Under US law, streaming and downloading piracy are seen as two different offenses. Not just from a technical point of view, but also in the way they are punished.

Unauthorized streaming is categorized as a public performance instead of distribution, which is punishable as a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Lawmakers tried to change this with the Commercial Felony Streaming Act in 2011, and later with the SOPA and PIPA bills. These bills were met with public outrage and didn’t pass.

As a result, the gap between streaming and traditional file-sharing still remains today. This frustrates major copyright holder groups and recently caught the eye of the Senate Judiciary Committee as well.

Last month, the Committee’s Chairman Senator Thom Tillis, and Ranking Member Senator Christopher Coons, requested clarification from the US Government’s Copyright Office on several streaming-related issues.

The letter was sent after a hearing, where the NBA and the UFC both requested to increase the criminal penalty for streaming. The senators warn that streaming piracy poses important risks to copyright owners. The fact that this is seen as a lesser offense is problematic and creates a loophole for prospective copyright infringers, they argue.

“Based on the testimony we received regarding the apparent ‘streaming loophole’ enabling illicit streamers to avoid felony criminal liability, we would appreciate the U.S. Copyright Office providing clear guidance regarding if and when unauthorized streaming infringes the right to control distribution of a work.

“Allowing this to remain unanswered will only benefit infringers and harm America’s economy,” the senators add in their letter to the Copyright Office.

The senators asked several questions, starting with whether streaming piracy violates the copyright holder’s right to public performance. In a reply letter published this week, Copyright Office director Karyn Temple answered this with an unequivocal “yes,” which wasn’t a surprise.

From the Copyright office’s letter (pdf)

The senators next wanted to know whether streaming piracy violates rightsholders’ right to control reproduction and distribution, as downloading does. This one was less straightforward with the Copyright Office noting that, depending upon the technology at issue, there may be instances in where this is the case.

These two questions are at the crux of the “loophole” debate as public performance infringements are seen as misdemeanors while reproduction and distribution offenses are felonies. Streaming is generally seen as a public performance.

However, in the response, the Copyright Office director stresses that it would like this to be changed. Responding to a question about its position, the Office is very clear.

“The Copyright Office supports the same level of felony penalties for violation of the public performance right as for the reproduction and distribution rights, a position reinforced by the combination of the growing importance of streaming to the U.S. economy and the failure of the current law to effectively address unauthorized streaming,” the Office’s response reads.

Finally, the senators asked whether the Copyright Office has any other suggestions to deal with the streaming piracy problem. The Office didn’t go into much detail on this issue but said that a small claims tribunal, which is currently being considered, could provide an additional tool for rightsholders.

The answers and the questions show that there is quite a bit of concern about streaming piracy. As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this issue being addressed in future legislation. Whether that will pass is yet another question, but the Copyright Office is all for it.

“The Office has long supported a legislative fix for the ‘streaming loophole,’ although we do not endorse any particular method of addressing the problem at this time,” Temple writes.

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LaLiga & Pro League Team Up With New Anti-Piracy Deal

LaLiga & Pro League Team Up With New Anti-Piracy Deal

Football is big business around the world and in Europe, Spain’s LaLiga is without doubt one of the biggest players.

Less referenced by its full name – Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División – LaLiga is the top professional football league in the country and like its counterparts in England, Italy, and Germany, has a piracy problem to contend with.

Around 2014, LaLiga began using new tools to combat the unlicensed reproduction of matches and associated content on the Internet. In 2018 it reported that 268,000 unlicensed videos had been removed from social media with 9,000 associated accounts blocked. The company also claimed to have “disabled” 10,000 card sharing servers, which are systems designed to bypass access controls on consumer TV equipment in order to avoid paying a subscription.

In the same year, LaLiga revealed it would be teaming up with Pro League, Belgium’s top-tier football league. The latter would begin using the former’s anti-piracy resources with an option to extend the agreement beyond the 2019/2019 campaign.

According to an update provided by LaLiga Thursday, that has now been taken up.

“[R]enewing [the agreement] is a guarantee that the work carried out in collaboration with the Belgian league is bearing fruit,” says Melcior Soler, director of LaLiga’s audiovisual department.

“The increase in data is a reason to keep working to defend competitions’ audiovisual value. Fighting against piracy is a priority for LaLiga and the Pro League and together we’ll continue to invest in technical tools and human resources to keep developing in this field.”

According to LaLiga, its successes over the last year are numerous. Across platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Periscope and SportsTube, the company claims to have removed 23,652 videos and deleted 100 associated accounts.

It’s also been busy targeting the app-based market too. The league says that across Google Play and Apple’s App Store, 703 apps that had the ability to stream top-tier football were removed following takedown requests. Together, they had clocked up more than 10 million downloads.

Of course, LaLiga has been looking to hinder IPTV providers too but its strategy is a curious one. Instead of going after the sources, in the way that the Premier League has, they’ve instead targeted IPTV sales web portals by asking Google to delist them from search.

LaLiga says it has successfully removed 6,000 links in this manner but it’s up for debate whether this has had much of an effect on content availability, particularly when one considers that IPTV subscriptions are often sold through re-sellers and via word of mouth.

Concluding its summary, LaLiga notes that it’s also removed 5,700 links to live streaming sites from Google search, adding that following requests to advertisers to prevent their ads from appearing on ‘pirate’ sites, there has been cooperation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the league didn’t mention its 250,000 euro fine for using fans’ phones to spy on piracy and breaching the GDPR in the process.

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Court Denies Abuse of Process Claim Against Copyright Troll

Court Denies Abuse of Process Claim Against Copyright Troll

Every year, so-called ‘copyright trolls’ sue thousands of people in the United States for online file-sharing, mostly through BitTorrent.

These companies target people whose connections were allegedly used to download and share infringing videos, in the hope of obtaining a significant financial settlement.

While many of the defendants may indeed be guilty, a number of accused Internet subscribers have done nothing wrong. This is also what a John Doe, known by the IP-address 73.225.38.130, has repeatedly argued before a federal court in Seattle, Washington.

The defendant in question was sued by Strike 3 Holdings late 2017. In common with other defendants, the man was offered a settlement to let the case go, but instead, he went on the offensive.

When the man pushed back, Strike 3 Holdings was ready to let the case go. The company filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss all claims but the defendant, a 70+-year-old retired policeman, wasn’t willing to let them. At least not without getting paid.

The defendant submitted a counterclaim accusing Strike 3 of abuse of process and “extortion through sham litigation.” The man accused the rightsholder of going on a “fishing expedition,” while knowing that it couldn’t link the subscriber of the IP-address to any specific infringement.

As part of this fishing expedition, the rightsholder also allegedly misused the discovery process to explore whether the man’s son, other family members or friends engaged in any infringement activity.

Strike 3, for its part, moved for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss that counterclaim. The company stressed that it did nothing wrong and merely wanted to find out who the real infringer was.

After reviewing the positions from both sides, US District Judge Thomas Zilly decided to dismiss the abuse of process claim.

The defendant argued that an IP-address alone is not enough to identify an infringer. This is in part based on an Appeal Court ruling that came in after Strike 3 had voluntarily dismissed its infringement claim. As such, the company can’t be judged by this standard, Judge Zilly argues.

In addition, Strike 3’s efforts to go after the man’s son and other family members are no grounds for abuse of process either, the Court ruled.

“Strike 3 was entitled to pursue a theory of defense that another member of defendant’s household or someone with access to defendant’s IP address had infringed one or more of Strike 3’s motion pictures via the BitTorrent network, which would undermine defendant’s allegation that Strike 3’s copyright infringement claim was frivolous and asserted for purely extortionist or other improper purposes,” the Judge notes.

The ruling is a setback for the defendant, but it’s not the end of the case yet. The retired police officer has also requested a declaratory judgment that he has not himself infringed any of Strike 3’s copyrighted works. This request remains pending and the court has instructed both parties to reach an agreement.

Strike 3 previously said that it was willing to declare that the defendant didn’t infringe its works and Judge Zilly encouraged the parties to file a proposed judgment on what costs and fees the copyright holder must pay, if any.

“With respect to attorney’s fees and costs, the parties shall attempt to reach agreement concerning whether and, if so, how much defendant should receive, bearing in mind that, under the Copyright Act, attorney’s fees are discretionary, and the Court may decline to award them,” Judge Zilly writes.

At the time of writing a proposed judgment has yet to be submitted. Whether Strike 3 is willing to pay (part) of the fees and costs remains to be seen. If both parties can’t come together, the Judge will have the final say.

A copy of United States District Judge Thomas Zilly’s order is available here (pdf).

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Law Council of Australia Warns Data Retention Regime Could Affect Pirates

Law Council of Australia Warns Data Retention Regime Could Affect Pirates

Retention of telecommunications metadata is increasingly viewed by governments as a valuable tool to fight serious crimes, including terrorism.

Communications systems, such as telephone networks and the Internet, can provide the ability to collect information revealing who contacted who and when.

However, when such sensitive data is collected on a broad scale, who can get access to that data becomes a serious concern. In Australia, a review of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act) has generated warnings that data supposedly being collected to fight serious crime is falling into broader hands.

The Communications Alliance, for example, highlights (pdf) that while there’s a perception that data will only be available to a limited number of law enforcement and security agencies, large numbers of other organizations have sought access to the data. They include a sports anti-doping authority, at least two illegal dumping groups, plus veterinary and fisheries authorities.

The availability of this data seems to be a magnet for many groups seeking to solve their own problems and according to the Law Council of Australia, that has the potential to include copyright holders in the future. While noting that some of its concerns that data will not be used by civil litigants have been addressed, there remains a concern that data collected now could be used for other purposes later on.

“[T]here is still the potential for ‘function creep’ under the regime due to the lack of prescription as to what purpose telecommunications data retained under the regime may be used for, potentially allowing for information collected for one reason to be later used for other purposes,” the Council’s submission reads (pdf).

Specifically, The Law Council says that earlier amendments to sections 280 and 281 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 may still have limitations that would allow file-sharers (typically BitTorrent users) to be scooped up, if there is a change of heart over the seriousness of their offenses.

“[T]here remains the potential for telecommunications data retained under the scheme to be used in matters of online piracy as telecommunications data may provide an irrefutable download history,” the Council warns.

“Former Attorney-General Brandis and the former AFP Commissioner have stated that the regime will not be used to tackle digital piracy, but should digital piracy offenses of individual consumers become criminalized in the future (currently piracy is only a criminal offense when at a commercial scale) it is possible that this position would be reassessed by the Government of the day.”

While a change in the law could potentially increase access to metadata in respect of pirates, copyright trolls are already on record trying to convince courts that their behavior is much more serious than it first appears. In 2017 in the United States, LHF Productions characterized five file-sharers as being part of a worldwide criminal conspiracy.

“While the actions of each individual participant may seem innocuous, their collective action amounts to one of the largest criminal enterprises ever seen on earth,” the lawsuit claimed.

“The Defendants are participants in a global piracy ring composed of one hundred fifty million members – a ring that threatens to tear down fundamental structures of intellectual property.”

Whether such a claim would ever gain credibility in Australia remains to be seen but it’s clear that tracking every action carried out by Internet users – file-sharers included – and recording them in a database for potential action is an extremely attractive proposition for copyright trolls.

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Groupe TVA, Bell, Rogers Team Up to Sue ‘Pirate’ IPTV Service

Groupe TVA, Bell, Rogers Team Up to Sue ‘Pirate’ IPTV Service

There are currently thousands of providers of unlicensed IPTV services around the world so stopping them all will prove a herculean task.

Nevertheless, entertainment industry groups and anti-piracy outfits seem to determined to take on the challenge, in the hope that strategic action here and there will deter others from getting involved in this growing business.

The latest action comes from Quebecor Inc.’s Groupe TVA Inc., BCE Inc. (Bell Canada Enterprises), and Rogers Communications Inc., who have teamed up to tackle a ‘pirate’ IPTV provider targeting the Canadian market.

The complaint, first reported by The Wire Report, sees the broadcasting giants taking on the operators of GoldTV.ca and GoldTV.biz in Federal Court, claiming that the service provides access to their TV content without licenses or authorization.

“The GoldTV.biz Service provides unauthorized access to hundreds (if not thousands) of live television channels and video-on-demand content,” the complaint filed in court July 18 reads.

Canada’s ‘premium IPTV provider’

A cursory review of the subscriptions offered by GoldTV.ca shows the kind of packages currently being offered by hundreds of other providers operating in the same niche.

Its fairly comprehensive channel list suggests that more than 7,600 are currently available from a huge range of broadcasting companies, although that number is likely to ebb and flow depending on the provider’s third-party sources.

That being said, it’s immediately apparent that from the prices being asked, the fact that’s there no contract, and customers being told they can play content on any device, anywhere, this doesn’t fit the parameters of any normal or sanctioned service.

No contract? Any device? Cheap? Probably pirate

Clicking through to the payment options reveals prices in Canadian dollars, something which adds weight to the claim that the service targets the local market. PayPal appears to be the default option, which probably means that personal details relating to the account will be sought by the plaintiffs at some point.

According to the complaint, GoldTV has been in business since at least 2017. A domain Whois query reveals GoldTV.ca as registered in March 2017 with the .biz variant registered in July of the same year. These records provide no useful information as to who is behind the domains and the plaintiffs state they have had no success in identifying the service’s operators.

Nevertheless, the complaint demands a trial in Montreal where the companies hope to win damages and an injunction to shutter the service.

Groupe TVA, Bell, and Rogers aren’t the only companies to have noticed the activities of GoldTV.ca in 2019.

Earlier this year Spanish soccer league La Liga sent a pair of DMCA notices (1,2) that removed close to 150 of the site’s URLs from Google’s search results. In both of these cases, none of the listed URLs pointed to any copyright-infringing content but instead targeted the service’s sales and support pages.

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Demonoid Staffers Launch New Site to Keep the Legacy Alive

Demonoid Staffers Launch New Site to Keep the Legacy Alive

As one of the oldest torrent communities, Demonoid has gone through many ups and downs over the years.

The site regularly disappeared, only to resurface later, which gave it the reputation of a comeback-kid.

However, last summer things changed when Deimos, the site’s founder, went missing. After months of uncertainty and downtime, it became clear that the site wasn’t coming back this time. Deimos is believed to have passed away in a tragic accident, marking the end of an era.

Many staffers were devastated when they heard the news but they were also motivated to keep the Demonoid spirit alive. To honor Deimos, first and foremost, and to create a place where former users of the site could continue to interact.

Initially, they started a forum at Demonoid.info and, as time went by, more and more Demonoid users found their way back. However, there was something missing. The new home didn’t allow people to do what they do best – sharing files.

This motivated a group of staffers to create a new “Demonoid” torrent site. Not to replace the old one, but to have a familiar torrent site again that looks and feels like their old home. With help from old crew members who offered servers, coding skills, and graphic design, Dnoid.to was born.

“Demonoid has a really massive user base, many of them are fans just like me, and just seeing the look of Demonoid feels like a ‘home’ to thousands,” Demonoid staffer ‘phaze1G’ tells TorrentFreak, commenting on the new site. 

Back..

While Dnoid.to looks identical to the old Demonoid, it’s completely different under the hood. It’s built on a new database which means that users have to sign up for a new account. In addition, the new site doesn’t operate a tracker either.

Dnoid.to doesn’t aim to be a replacement of the original site. It’s basically just a magnet index with a Demonoid skin that allows users to add new links. There are no torrents hosted on the site itself.

For the time being anyone can join the site, as registrations are open (update: closed now). However, these may close in the future, to keep spammers and other types of abuse at bay.

The purpose of the new site isn’t to become the next big torrent site. It’s to honor Demonoid’s legacy and also in part to keep scammy sites from taking over the brand.

“The point is not to compete with the original Demonoid or to be above other public torrents sites. It’s just to keep a memory of Demonoid and its founder Deimos, who is well-known around old folks and who set really high standards for torrent communities ever since 2003,” phaze1G says.

“Demonoid always had a special spot in people’s hearts. Keeping a memento of it without letting others ruin it by making copycats and phishing sites from it is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to him and keeping his legacy alive.”

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Popular Stream-Ripper Voluntarily Disables YouTube Conversion

Popular Stream-Ripper Voluntarily Disables YouTube Conversion

With millions of visitors per day, Onlinevideoconverter.com is the most-visited stream-ripping site on the Internet.

The service gained popularity by allowing users to convert and download videos from a wide variety of platforms, YouTube included.

The site has operated without any issues for years, but earlier this month something changed. YouTube decided to actively block servers of so-called stream-rippers, hoping to prevent these sites from facilitating “violative downloads.”

While this worked initially, many stream-ripping sites quickly found ways to circumvent the blockade. In many cases, switching to new IP-addresses did the trick, at least temporarily. This was also true for Onlinevideoconverter.com (OVC), which was fully operational again after a few days.

However, the team behind the site isn’t planning to keep up this fight. People who access the stream-ripper today will notice that YouTube downloads have stopped working again. A site representative informs TorrentFreak that this is intentional.

“In view of YouTube’s latest stance, we’ve decided to disable the conversion of all YouTube videos on our service,” OVC says.

For the time being the various YouTube references on the site remain intact. The site said that some of these will remain online for SEO purposes. It’s clear, however, that ripping and downloading YouTube videos no longer works.

Error…

The stream-ripping site notes that the decision was taken voluntarily and not after it was contacted directly by rightsholders or YouTube. OVC simply believes that it’s the best direction to take and it stresses that other downloading and conversion tools remain available.

“No one has reached out to us recently, we think it’s best for such a decision after YouTube’s latest effort,” OVC adds.

The music industry groups that have complained bitterly about the stream-ripping phenomenon will be happy with the decision, especially since OVC is the most popular stream-ripper out there. However, not all sites are ready to throw in the towel.

Mp3-youtube.download, for example, is vowing to do anything it can to keep the service available.

“I think the YouTube update is stupid because we will always find a solution,” the operator of Mp3-youtube.download told us, commenting on the issue.

This was to be expected, of course, as no blocking solution is perfectly effective. That said, the music industry hopes that enough services will become temporarily unavailable, to frustrate some people enough to give up.

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Steal This Show S04E20: ‘You’ll See This Message When It Is Too Late’

Steal This Show S04E20: ‘You’ll See This Message When It Is Too Late’

In this episode we meet Sean Tilley (aka @deadsuperhero) of We Distribute (and formerly the Diaspora project) to discuss: the early days at Diaspora, the first Facebook alternative to really reach critical mass; the steady rise of Mastodon and why the Fediverse its gaining traction; some surprising factors pushing people to move from Big Social to federated social media networks; and whether technologists could (or should) move beyond de-platforming to begin refusing use of their technologies to those whose political ideas they disagree with.

Steal This Show aims to release bi-weekly episodes featuring insiders discussing crypto, privacy, copyright and file-sharing developments. It complements our regular reporting by adding more room for opinion, commentary, and analysis.

Host: Jamie King

Guest: Sean Tilley

If you enjoy this episode, consider becoming a patron and getting involved with the show. Check out Steal This Show’s Patreon campaign: support us and get all kinds of fantastic benefits!

Produced by Jamie King
Edited & Mixed by Lucas Marston
Original Music by David Triana
Web Production by Eric Barch

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Police Dismantle Pirate IPTV Provider, Seize Cash, Crypto, Gold Bars

Police Dismantle Pirate IPTV Provider, Seize Cash, Crypto, Gold Bars

Rightsholders, anti-piracy outfits, and police are stepping up their efforts to disrupt ‘pirate’ IPTV operations around Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world.

These unlicensed services are considered one of the prime threats to the profits of broadcasters since they offer hundreds and often thousands of live TV channels to Internet users at a fraction of their official retail price.

Italy’s Postal and Communications Police (Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni) is the latest body to report success in this area, after targeting a source (perhaps the main source) of popular local provider ZSat, a service that offered the entire programming schedule of media giant Sky.

Following what authorities are describing as a highly technical and complex operation carried out under the coordination of the Public Prosecutor of Palermo, the cybercrime unit says it targeted the Palermo home of a 35-year-old man.

In his bedroom police found a total of 57 Sky Italia satellite decoders which were configured to receive Sky’s broadcasts. In turn, these receivers were connected to equipment which allowed channels to be retransmitted over the Internet for consumption by IPTV subscribers.

According to the authorities, the scale of the business was supported by the discovery of various assets at the property, including 186,900 euros in cash and a car. A banknote counter and gold bars were found hidden in a toilet and garbage disposal areas.

Police also found virtual wallets containing various cryptocurrencies. No value has yet been placed on the digital haul but the Postal and Communications Police says the amount is “certainly high” but will be better estimated following further “technical assessments”.

The discovery of a large number of satellite decoders at the address indicates that this wasn’t a low-level provider. Considerable effort is required to put together this kind of operation and it’s likely that the resulting Internet streams would have been utilized by other IPTV providers.

Authorities say the man is now under investigation for suspected criminal offenses under Art. 171 of local copyright law which carries penalties of up to three years in prison for commercial infringement.

Video released by police

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Dailymotion Must Pay €5.5m For Failing to Remove Pirated Content

Dailymotion Must Pay €5.5m For Failing to Remove Pirated Content

Similar to other sites that rely on user-generated content, Dailymotion has to deal with the occasional unauthorized upload.

In doing so, it generally relies on takedown notices from copyright holders. In most cases, rightsholders report allegedly infringing URLs which Dailymotion then removes.

This is how most of these platforms work. However, according to a recent ruling by the Court of Rome, that’s not always good enough.

The Court ruled that Dailymotion can be held liable for failing to remove copyright-infringing content, even when the specific URLs are never pointed out to the platform. The title of a TV-show plus the name and trademark of a broadcaster already creates an obligation to act, the Court found.

The case in question was filed by RTI, a company owned by Italy-based mass media giant Mediaset. The company complained that Dailymotion hosted hundreds of infringing copies of its TV-shows, such as Big Brother and Celebrity Island.

When RTI pointed this out, identifying just a representative list of specific infringing videos, only the mentioned URLs were removed.

Dailymotion argued that there’s not much else it can do without specific URLs detailing the allegedly infringing content. However, the Court disagreed. In a ruling handed down by the Court of Rome, Dailymotion was ordered to pay €5.5 million to RTI.

According to the ruling, the video platform is seen as an active hosting provider under Article 14 of the European E-Commerce Directive. As such, it can’t benefit from safe harbor exemptions and the company should have taken action when it was notified about allegedly infringing content.

This argument is similar to the previous ruling against The Pirate Bay, which was also held liable for the uploads of its users.

In addition to the €5.5 million in damages, which is €700 per minute for the pirated shows, Dailymotion also has to deal with future uploads. If it fails to do so, the video platform must pay an additional €5,000 for each copyright-infringing video that appears on the site.

Dealing with future uploads is required, as Dailymotion is assumed to have “actual knowledge” of infringements, without the need for rightsholders to point out specific URLs, RTI attorney Alessandro La Rosa informs TorrentFreak.

“The actual knowledge of the infringing content can’t in a way be linked to the specification of the relevant URLs. The Court states that a specific indication of the infringing files [e.g., names and a general desription of shows plus the broadcaster’s trademark] is enough,” La Rosa says.

In other words, when specific TV-shows are pointed out to Dailymotion, the platform must ensure that these titles don’t appear on its site. This implies that Dailymotion has to set up a proactive piracy filtering system targeting specific works, as IPKAT notes.

The ruling poses a threat to similar video hosting services. While most are able to remove specific content, making sure that titles don’t appear on their sites in the future is something entirely different. In fact, it sounds a lot like a mandatory upload filter of specified works, similar to what the new EU copyright directive prescribes.

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