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RIAA Countersued Under Racketeering Laws 893

Posted by simoniker
from the prohibition-is-on dept.
Negadin writes "According to CNET News, a New Jersey woman, one of the hundreds of people accused of copyright infringement by the Recording Industry Association of America, has countersued the big record labels, charging them with extortion and violations of the federal antiracketeering act." The woman's attornies are arguing that "...by suing file-swappers for copyright infringement, and then offering to settle instead of pursuing a case where liability could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the RIAA is violating the same laws that are more typically applied to gangsters and organized crime."
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RIAA Countersued Under Racketeering Laws

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  • Probably won't stick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steve's nose is blee (636466) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:19PM (#8322775) Homepage Journal
    It probably won't stick, but Bravo! I'm tired of watching the RIAA offer to settle with people regardless of guilt. By agreeing to settle many people look guilty and add fuel to the RIAA's fires.

    Stick it to the Man!
  • by gui_tarzan2000 (625775) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:19PM (#8322778)
    ... sounds like a good plot for an episode of "The Sopranos"!

  • Start a Trend (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 36526542DD (456961) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:20PM (#8322786)
    Now if everyone who got sued by the RIAA counter-sued with similar charges, you'd see these lawsuits go away entirely, for two reasons:

    1) The RIAA can't stand up to intense public scrutiny, without shooting themselves (and their industry) in the foot.

    2) Being sued by over 1,000 people becomes cost prohibitive very quickly, particularly considering it will be in 100's of different courtrooms spread across America.

    I'm not a big fan of lawsuits, but I say good for her.
    • Re:Start a Trend (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MoneyT (548795) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:42PM (#8322987) Journal
      On point 1, we've seen many corporations (SCO, Microsoft et al) shoot themselves in the foot many times and still blindly suge ahead.
    • Re:Start a Trend (Score:5, Insightful)

      by santos_douglas (633335) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:49PM (#8323037) Journal
      That's a great point. In fact, the quick settlement of the early suits not only emboldened the RIAA, but in the eyes of the general population it probably seemed like a signal that the RIAA was right all along and those nasty song swappers settled quick because they knew they were wrong. Legally a settlement is neutral, but in the eyes of the public, it says guilty for someone. With someone fighting back, suddenly it starts to turn the other way, with lone individuals taking a stand against a big record industry - people love that!
    • Re:Start a Trend (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iabervon (1971) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:57AM (#8323528) Homepage Journal
      I think a more significant response would be to put pressure on the DoJ to file criminal charges against the RIAA for their tactics. If this woman's case has any merits, and voters seem to care enough to make it an campaign issue in the presidential race, it's possible. At that point, the RIAA would clearly quit, because they're practically certain to have their civil cases dismissed with contempt of court if those cases are the subject of criminal charges, and they wouldn't be able to get any lawyers (a.k.a. co-conspirators, who lose privilege) for the cases anyway.

      Sure, it's not as fitting an end to the RIAA as being gunned down by a rival street gang in LA (or arrested by the LAPD), but it's something. I wonder if they're due for an audit...
  • Racket (Score:5, Funny)

    by Abit667 (745465) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:20PM (#8322790) Homepage
    The RIAA does make a bit of a racket, finally some one telling them to quiet up.
  • by rueger (210566) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:20PM (#8322791) Homepage
    Was I the only person who was unable to access the Slashdot site at the exact moment that this was posted?

    Coincidence? I think not!
  • A Long Shot? (Score:5, Informative)

    by klasikahl (627381) <klasikahl@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:20PM (#8322792) Journal
    I think it's worthy to note that, in the headline, CNET News called the lawsuit a "long-shot."
  • Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BenSpinSpace (683543) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:21PM (#8322793)
    Someone's suing the RIAA! Good things are going to happen, good things are going to happen.

    (Of course, this will end when the RIAA then settles with the woman herself, paying her to shut up.)

    In fact, whether the woman wins or loses, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
  • by narftrek (549077) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:21PM (#8322795)
    Say hello to my LITTLE FRIEND!

    *mows down RIAA*

    God I love you Pacino....
  • RIAA getting sued... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Parhelion Poser (715324) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:21PM (#8322796)
    Does anyone else feel this took way too long? I seriously can't believe any of the others haven't had the balls (or money) to stand up to them yet.
  • Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sancho (17056) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:21PM (#8322797) Homepage
    Now they'll start suing everyone for hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of offering to settle. And they've got the perfect excuse--the US government made them do it.
  • The difference (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:21PM (#8322798) Homepage Journal
    The Mafia doesn't offer you your day in court if you would rather not pay your protection money.

    The RIAA is suing those whom they think are guilty of file sharing. If you are not guilty, you have the absolute right to demand your day in court.

    I'm not trying to absolve the RIAA for their heinous practices, but there is nothing illegal about what they are doing.
    • Re:The difference (Score:5, Insightful)

      by barc0001 (173002) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:33PM (#8322901)
      They're "Offering a day in court"?

      Please.

      They're saying "Pay this small fine of several thousand dollars, or when we take you to court we'll ensure that you and all of your immediate family are destitute for the next 3 generations"

      They're banking (no pun intended) on the fact that most people see that it will cost at least as much as the proposed fine to hire a lawyer and fight, and by fighting there is no guarantee they will win, so they just pay the fine rather than take the risk.

      Sounds at least a bit like extortion to me...
      • Re:The difference (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Custard (587661) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:38AM (#8323414) Homepage Journal
        They're saying "Pay this small fine of several thousand dollars, or when we take you to court we'll ensure that you and all of your immediate family are destitute for the next 3 generations"

        You're absolutely right.

        The core problem is that the law allows for ridiculously high monetary penalties for violating a copyright. It seems to have been written to deter those who would make millions off bootlegged distribution. But it's being applied to people who violated copyright for no financial gain, and typically they weren't even aware they were sharing files (they only thought they were downloading for themselves).

        I mean, imagine that a law was passed to penalize big businesses from dumping garbage in rivers, and it would cost them $100,000 per incident. But since "incident" was so vaguely defined, even dropping a gum wrapper off a canoe would mean you violated the law. So the gov't could sue you for $100,000, but they offer to settle for $3,000. A lawyer would cost you $3,000 anyway, so what the hell do you do? You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

        I think the best that could come out of this is that the law will be declared unconstitutional on the basis of "penalty doesn't fit the crime" (via cruel/unusual punishment). If the RIAA successfully prosecuted everyone they've contacted for one song each (over 2000 by my count so far?) and got the maximum penalty of $30,000, they would have been awarded $60,000,000 dollars! WTF? Were they really damaged $60,000,000 by the sharing of 2000 songs? Those 2,000 people could have been sharing the same single song to at least 10 people, so even if the RIAA lost $20 worth of missed-album purchases, they'd still be only be $40,000 in the hole. And that's not even considering that the record companies pocket just a percentage of each album's sticker price.

        From http://www.arizona.edu/home/p2p-programs.shtml [arizona.edu]

        I wish one of our legislators would read this and realize how ridiculous it is:

        What the Law Says:

        The distribution of copyrighted materials over the Internet for which the distributor (any server - including your computer) does not have permission can be a violation of federal criminal law, a law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Most of the music, games or videos downloaded through file-sharing programs like Morpheus or KaZaA lack permission of the copyright owner. And, those very programs that you use to download material, automatically open file-sharing services from your computer. So, without your knowing it explicitly, by downloading the program and the files your computer is programmed to share files back out into the international Internet community. You are therefore liable to be in violation of the DMCA, even if all you did was download a single song. Each criminal offense carries with it a minimum fine of $30,000 and a potential jail sentence.
    • Re:The difference (Score:5, Insightful)

      by StarWreck (695075) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:35PM (#8322931) Homepage Journal
      The RIAA dosen't offer you a day in court either. They have so much financial resources that they can just force any case that goes to court to stretch out so long that you will simply go bankrupt and try to flee to Mexico. They know that there is hardly a Jury on earth that would side with a corrupt monopoly that sues 12 year olds, so they just force you to spend tens-of-thousands of dollars in the preliminaries before you even get to Jury selection.
      • Re:The difference (Score:5, Informative)

        by and by (598383) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:58PM (#8323119)
        But if they do that and you can show that they're doing so in order to unnecessarily prolong the proceedings or cause undue hardships (and we're not talking a high standard of proof here) they get their case thrown out and they will probably have to pay for your lawyer. See Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 11.
    • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:41PM (#8322975)
      If you are not guilty, you have the absolute right to demand your day in court.

      You would not be nearly so smug if they sued you, even by accident. Not only can anything happen in a court room, but you'll spend hundreds to throusands of your own dollars to prove your innocence -- of which you won't get a penny back if you do win.

      Next time think of the real situation before you post.

  • She'll lose (Score:5, Insightful)

    by samsmithnz (702471) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:22PM (#8322805) Homepage
    She'll never win, she won't have the cashflow. Even if she were, by some miricle to 'win', she'd probably be bankrupt. Its about as useless as me suing IBM or Microsoft 'just for fun'
    • Re:She'll lose (Score:5, Informative)

      by IllogicalStudent (561279) <jsmythe79 @ h o t m a il.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:39PM (#8322960)

      She'll never win, she won't have the cashflow.

      She might not have the cashflow, but if what an earlier poster said about the Racketeering Act covering legal fees is true, that mightn't matter.

      I quote the earlier poster:

      Section 1964 of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act not only provides for civil remedies in cases like this, but also automatically triples the damages and covers court costs and lawyers' fees.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:23PM (#8322811) Homepage
    So if convicted, the RIAA can either:

    a) Do nothing, and seem ineffective at stopping P2P (which they already are, but it's a different thing to give up the PR battle) or
    b) Drive every court case home. The evidence is quite clear, the possible damages huge. The courts might award them considerably higher fines than any settlement.

    Somehow I think this will push them to b), and I sure wouldn't want to be on the recieving end of the next $97 billion lawsuit... $97 million, billion, trillion, kazillion is kinda irrelevant at that point anyway.

    Kjella
    • by KarmaOverDogma (681451) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:37PM (#8322948) Homepage Journal
      Doubltless under what you propose some people may get financially mowed down, but you are leaving out a few factors wich could be very good for the masses:

      1) Children age 12, Grandmothers, and People without actual computers being sued in court. Wonderfully bad publicity RIAA
      2) Sympathetic Jury Nullification. More wonderfully bad publicity for RIAA
      3) A Hung Jury or a simple Not Guilty Verdict. Not only bad for RIAA but it sets a track record. This is one of the things they absolutely DO NOT want.
      4) A wealthy defendent who hires an Attorney who can go the distance. This would also be very bad for the RIAA.

      So yes, if convicted the RIAA may just take cases to court en masse, but they could also become a classic David vs. Goliath story as well.

      .
  • Mobsters (Score:5, Funny)

    by MaxwellX22 (754258) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:24PM (#8322817)
    How dare they compare the Scum of the RIAA to such upstanding citizens. Such as: Al Capone, Tony Montana, and Don Corleone
  • by holy_smoke (694875) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:24PM (#8322818)
    "It's probably not the first time that record company executives have been likened to Al Capone, but this time a judge might have to agree or disagree."

    I sincerely hope that we get a good judge on this one. A precedence ruling in favor of the alleged file swappers would be a nice help.

    Every RIAA executive weenie's nightmare:

    headline "RIAA COMPARED TO MOB, TACTICS RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL"

    Her lawyers should do this pro-bono for all the attention they will get from this case.
  • by stonebeat.org (562495) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:24PM (#8322822) Homepage
    if it is cheaper on a monthly basis, I might just pay the protection money to RIAA, instead of signing up for itunes [apple.com]/audible [audible.com] ;)
    It is a joke. Laff!! :)
  • huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jim Starx (752545) <JStarxNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:25PM (#8322828)
    According to the RIAA, which filed its latest round of lawsuits against 531 as-yet-anonymous individuals on Tuesday, it has settled with 381 people, including some who had not yet actually had suits filed against them yet.

    How's that work.....??

  • 899lb Gorilla (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erick99 (743982) * <homerun@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:26PM (#8322835)
    It's a bit of a stretch, but, there *is* something to be said about the RIAA basically bullying people into settling through what amounts to intimidation. What a judge has to decide is if this is okay when the RIAA is essentially legally "in the right" to begin with. But, there is something to be said for the average defendant not feeling like that have a chance in hell against the RIAA's formidable resources.

    Happy Trails

    Erick

  • by The Z Master (234139) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:27PM (#8322849)
    Why is it that the police will arrest individuals, but corporations seem to need to be sued? If someone sent in a tip to the police that the RIAA were racketeering, nothing would happen, but if the same tip were applied to an individual or gang, there would be an investigation. These days, big businesses seem much more powerful because they can hide behind lawyers and deep pockets.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:42PM (#8322992)
      Sssssshhhhhh, you've just stumbled upon the big secret of US-style capitalism. Corporations are allowed massively more moral leeway in a rather shocking array of areas when compared to individuals.

      If an individual accidentally kills a few people, it's a few counts of manslaughter and considerable jail time. If a corporation does it, it's a lawsuit and some cash.
    • by cookiepus (154655) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:11AM (#8323221) Homepage
      Because the whole point of a corporation is to limit personal liability?

      Like if you open a store which is in your name, and someone falls down in the isle, they can sue and win not only the store, but your own home and personal assets as well.

      If you open a store under a corporate name, and someone sues you, they can win, at most, the business. Your person and personal effects are separate from the business.

      You may not like it, but the whole purpose of the concept of corporation is to limit liability, as above.
  • Barratry (Score:5, Informative)

    by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:29PM (#8322866) Homepage Journal
    Also known as taking unfair advantage of being an officer of the court. From the Scots term for being a corrupt judge, extended to include persistantly filing false suits.
  • Make the RIAA pay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jettoblack (683831) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:30PM (#8322874)
    The RIAA companies probably make a small profit when someone settles with them for a few grand. Lawyers take their cut, but a settlement contract isn't all that expensive or time consuming for the RIAA.

    But unless they win HUGE punitive damages (and the loser actually has the money to pay and doesn't declare bankruptcy) they probably lose money when it comes down to a lawsuit. And that takes a long time and involves a lot of up-front legal expenses, for questionable return.

    If enough people start counter-suing the RIAA, or at least going to court instead of settling, then the lawsuits will soon become a huge financial burden on the RIAA, even when they win.
  • by NSash (711724) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:32PM (#8322896) Journal
    This seems like the racketeering suit filed against DirecTV [dtvlawsuits.com], which was tossed out of court. Still, I'm glad that someone is taking a stand. Even if this suits and others like it are not successful, the RIAA may change tactics as they begin to meet resistance.
  • by kfg (145172) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:32PM (#8322897)
    In fact, even in today's legal climate I doubt it will survive the priliminary hearing. If the RIAA had any legitimate cause they the right to bring action. They also had the right to settle, as did anyone they brought action against.

    If you lend someone ten bucks, they say they can't pay, you sue them, and you both agree to settle the matter for a fiver there is no extortion.

    In fact the courts do everything they can to encourage such a resolution and avoid a trial.

    If she felt the RIAA did not have grounds she had the opportunity to have her day in court.

    Settling and then demanding your day in court, plus damages, well, that's a wee bit of a stretch, even against the RIAA.

    The people who have been hustled by the RIAA "cops" would stand a much better chance with this sort of action.

    KFG
    • by AnotherBlackHat (265897) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:31AM (#8323376) Homepage

      In fact, even in today's legal climate I doubt it will survive the priliminary hearing. If the RIAA had any legitimate cause they [had] the right to bring action. They also had the right to settle, as did anyone they brought action against.

      If you lend someone ten bucks, they say they can't pay, you sue them, and you both agree to settle the matter for a fiver there is no extortion.


      In this case though, they're accusing you of stealing $10, they threaten to sue you sue you for $250,000 and offer to settle for $1000.

      If you're innocent, your choices are;
      Pay them the $1,000.
      Pay a lawyer $10,000 and waste a year of your life fighting the case.

      Sure if you're guilty it's a generous offer on their part.
      But if you're innocent, it's extortion.

      It might be legal extortion, but it's still extortion.

      -- this is not a .sig
  • by shark72 (702619) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:33PM (#8322904)

    I liked this part of the article:

    "Maalouf's attorneys noted that downloading through Kazaa was openly discussed at Maalouf's daughter's school by teachers, and they downloaded songs used in classes. That should be a protected fair use of the music, the attorneys said."

    First, I really wonder if the teacher said "now, put thousands of songs in your Kazaa share directory." They got nailed for apparently sharing lots and lots of copyrighted material with Internet users at large without authorization, not for downloading a song or two at the behest of a teacher.

    At any rate, helping yourself to a copy of Photoshop because you need it for a class project isn't "protected fair use" (although, sensibly, Adobe and many other software companies do often take steps for students to legally get software at less than retail cost), and neither is downloading a song. Did the teacher mislead them into thinking that massive music piracy was legal? Fine; sue the teacher. But it's no excuse to break the law.

    There are plenty of legitimate ways to fight back against the recording industry (as the main subject of the article is doing), but this defense is just plain silly.

  • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:41PM (#8322980) Homepage Journal
    In my opinion, this has never looked good for the RIAA. First, they helped create laws that would impose very large fines for relatively minor offenses. Then they make deals with alleged copyright violators to settle at a fraction of the fine.

    One has to ask two questions. First, if they are willing to settle for such a small amount, why are the fines so high to begin with. Wouldn't it be more efficient to set fines at a appropriate level in the first place? It is very arguable that such high fines were created to allow extortion.

    Second, why do they want to settle so badly? It seems like they would want some percentage of the cases to go to court to establish that these people actually violated copyright. As it stands, it would be very reasonable to assert that they are randomly choosing people, and then extorting money from them.

    So, with the current tactics, extortion and fear seems to be their game. It is like those old shows where a gang would go into a business and demand protection money. There are legal ways to extort this kind of money, the MPAA and BSA does it. The RIAA does not seem to care about the law.

    I really don't understand why the RIAA does not get an independent arbitrator to look at each case, assign a dollar value to the damages, and then send a letter to the alleged violators. Further legal proceedings might occur if the money is not paid, but at least then we would have some confidence that the RIAA is not just harassing innocent people.

  • by Comatose51 (687974) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:51PM (#8323056) Homepage
    If they all counter-sued and dried up RIAA's resources, it would be like the legal equivalent of a Slashdotting!
  • Possible defense? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:54PM (#8323089) Homepage Journal
    IANAL, and am just thinking out loud, but couldn't those that have been singled out by the RIAA claim some sort of discrimination? More specifically, there are hundreds of thousands of people the RIAA could pursue for sharing music. What is the chance of convincing a court to force the RIAA to attempt to identify and prosecute every single user of Kazaa that distribute RIAA music?

    Not only would it cost the RIAA a fortune (as well as create logistical impossibilities), but as soon as the children of a few politicians, celebrities, executives, etc, are fingered by the RIAA we would see some fireworks fly.

    Dan East
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:57PM (#8323115)
    CRIA named the IPs and nicknames of the Kazaa users it intends to sue.

    details here:
    http://www.canfli.org/index.php?name=PNphpB B2&file =viewtopic&t=24
  • by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity.sbcglobal@net> on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:00AM (#8323134) Homepage Journal
    Artists have known for years that they were racketeers.

    Proving that in court? That's somewhat more difficult.
  • Classic... (Score:5, Funny)

    by slasher999 (513533) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:23AM (#8323314)
    Leave it to someone here in Jersey to strike back at them using laws made with the intent of reducing organized crime.
  • Imbalanced laws (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @01:33AM (#8323731)
    The RIAA has been threatening prosecution under a law (the DMCA), that gives them a 30,00 dollar penalty at base, or 5 times that (150,000 per incident) if they can prove willfullness. They are being taken to court under RICO, a law aimed at organized crime, yet that law only allows 3x damages, and requires proving criminal intent, which seems to be a lot higher standard than willfulness. It's a good thing for the RIAA that the "cruel and unusual" clause doesn't automaticly apply to civil suits, or that very fact would shoot down the DMCA.
    Why do they have a special law that lets them come down harder on file sharers than victims of the mob can fight back against mobsters? Do we really need a law that is tougher on copyright violators than the law is allowed to get on Drug Kingpins, Murder for Hire rings, or general Racketeers?
  • RIAA and morality? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by utlemming (654269) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @03:29AM (#8324241) Homepage
    This is most likely off topic, but I was thinking about it the other day -- isn't it interesting that RIAA is stating that theft of music is wrong? If you just happen to look at the artists that RIAA represents you have to wonder about the legitimacy of RIAA preaching morality. In the music that is pedaled by RIAA you get everything from sex, drugs, murder, all manner of crime and theft. I guess my confusion is why does RIAA expect the customer base to follow a different moral and ethical standard than that of the music that is being sold? I am not saying that all of the music represented by RIAA is immoral or amoral, just that the subject matter of some is.

    Just a thought...

    (Now the question: offtopic, troll or flamebait. These things are so unpredictable)

  • by sudog (101964) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @04:08AM (#8324410) Homepage
    "It is the first I've heard of anyone attempting that," said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn. "I guess that is a silver lining of the fact that the RIAA is suing so many people, that there are a lot of lawyers trying to figure out ways to protect folks." ... the above quote is from the article--right at the end. Unfortunately this racketeering counter-suit doesn't work when the people being sued are doing the illegal/infringing activities.

    How do I know? DirecTV has been doing the same thing for far, far longer, someone counter-sued them for racketeering, and the suit was dismissed. If I'm not mistaken, it was even discussed here on Slashdot.

    Anyway, the alleged activities these people are engaged in are illegal in the U.S. (but not in Canada!) so if it's proven they did them, then it's proven.

    Think of the consequences of a racketeering conviction! A company would no longer be able to sue large masses of people who were infringing their intellectual property! Ack, the chaos that would ensue there!

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