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MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period 260

Posted by timothy
from the now-how-much-would-you-pay? dept.
Sir Homer writes "The MPEG LA has extended their royalty-free license (PDF) for 'Internet Video that is free to end users' until the end of 2016. This means webmasters who are registered MPEG LA licensees will not have to pay a royalty to stream H.264 video for the next six years. However the last patent in the H.264 portfolio expires in 2028, and the MPEG LA has not released what fees, if any, it will charge webmasters after this 'free trial' period is over."
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MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period

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  • From TFS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:59AM (#31010662) Homepage

    However the last patent in the H.264 portfolio expires in 2028, and the MPEG LA has not released what fees, if any, it will charge webmasters after this 'free trial' period is over.

    I would SERIOUSLY hope there are new protocols by 2028...

    • Re:From TFS (Score:5, Informative)

      by olsmeister (1488789) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:00PM (#31010678)
      By 2016 would be better.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by poetmatt (793785)

        By 2010 would be better.

    • Re:From TFS (Score:4, Insightful)

      by alvinrod (889928) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:19PM (#31011006)
      H.265 [wikipedia.org] has an estimated release of 2012. We're just trading on MPEG LA standard for another, but they may offer free licensing of it for a while as well. Personally, I don't think they should be able to charge content providers squat. They can sell users an encoder and charge for decoders in products, but what anyone does after that shouldn't be any business of the MPEG LA.
    • Problem is, do you think that protocols using only ideas from before 2008 will be optimal for whatever hardware and software systems we'll be using in 2028?

      While you're thinking about that, please support campaigns to abolish software patents [endsoftwarepatents.org].

  • Data transfer? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:03PM (#31010716)

    How does a patent license allow you to charge for transmitting data over the Internet? I get that the encoder requires a patent license, and the decoder requires a patent license, but sending an encoded file over the Internet? That's just absurd.

    • Re:Data transfer? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sakdoctor (1087155) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:05PM (#31010754) Homepage

      Software patents? That's just absurd.

      • Re:Data transfer? (Score:5, Informative)

        by BZ (40346) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:58PM (#31011614)

        The H.264 patents are method patents, not software patents.

        • by pbhj (607776)

          Semantics. This is just one of the tricks one uses in writing patent applications. The method is performed using software (or possibly hard coded in a special chip) on a computer.

          • Re:Data transfer? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by BZ (40346) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:59PM (#31012578)

            Well, hold on. How is performing a method using wires carrying electrons to carry a digital signal different from performing a method using wires carrying electrons to carry an analogue signal (e.g. an FM radio receiver)?

            Should a mechanical device that performs a task be patentable but an integrated circuit that peforms the same task not be patentable?

            But in any case, the point is that the patents involved have been granted in all sorts of jurisdictions that don't allow "software" patents. This is bad from the point of view of open-source projects that want to use H.264, for sure. But it seems to me that the fundamental idea of patenting the methods used in H.264 is sound, assuming the idea of patents is sound at all. This last is up for debate, of course.

        • by delt0r (999393)
          Then software decoders and encoders would be in the clear. But they are not. Not even in the EU....
    • Decoding per byte. It's a simple rental model, like the old processor charges in the 60s & 70s on mainframes.

    • Re:Data transfer? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Looce (1062620) * on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:30PM (#31011180) Journal

      How does a patent license allow you to charge for transmitting data over the Internet?

      Simple: it doesn't. However, it's a good measure of how much revenue MPEG LA expects you to be bringing in from your use of their standards, and as such is a nice way to scale up licensing fees according to your revenue.

      Think of it as a way of implementing this rule: You give us X % of the revenue you bring in from your use of our standard, and in exchange, you can use our standard. If the main use of your company is to deliver solutions based on our standard, this will be X % of your revenue. If you only make incidental use of our standard, your license is going to cost you lower.

      (And, of course, if you find something else that's good enough for your purposes and is free or costs less than our standard, you're free to use it.)

  • Nice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jvkjvk (102057) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:07PM (#31010776)

    What a charming business model.

    Oh well, I guess webmasters could have always used something else, right?

    It's particularly nice that web masters are giving billing information 6 years early, so the company doesn't have to do much to track down the first round of suck^H^H^H^H customers to bill them for use.

    There's nothing like getting your IP embedded deeply into everyones processes (with their complete acknowledgement of that fact) and then seeking rent against the cost of changing it.

    I would expect that many companies don't have migration plans in place, I don't know, not my business.

    Regards.

    • by qoncept (599709)
      And all while giving you an additional 6 years on your contingency plan for a technology that will be obsolete by the time you could potentially be charged for it. How do they sleep at night?
    • Re:Nice (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:16PM (#31010928) Journal

      Six years? Six years is a very long time in CODEC evolution. Six years makes computers sixteen times faster. Network connections will be much faster. By 2016, I doubt there'll be many computers around that can't play back VC-2 (based on Dirac, patent free) in use and VC-2 hardware acceleration, which is just starting to be deployed, will be much more widespread. Remember the CODECs we were using six years ago?

      MPEG-1 didn't last six years as a standard for Internet video. Neither did RealVideo. Neither did Sorenson (in QuickTime or Flash containers). I'd be surprised if H.264 does.

      • Re:Nice (Score:5, Insightful)

        by slim (1652) <`ten.puntrah' `ta' `nhoj'> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:23PM (#31011066) Homepage

        In 6 years time, there'll be an awful lot of iPhones/iPads (and their descendants) in the wild.

        Expect H.264, and maybe some other patent-encumbered standards, to be the only video format a web site can use in order to be viewed on these devices.

        The options for video websites in 2016? Pay up, or abandon iPhone/iPad users. Plus who knows how many other closed platforms.

        • Re:Nice (Score:5, Informative)

          by nxtw (866177) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:56PM (#31011594)

          The options for video websites in 2016? Pay up, or abandon iPhone/iPad users. Plus who knows how many other closed platforms.

          It's much more than just Apple's portable devices; they just happened to include H.264 first. H.264 decoders exist in:

          • all Blu-ray players
          • many new PCs, including just about all with NVIDIA or ATI GPUs and many Intel GPUs
          • nearly all HD satellite receivers, and many countries' terrestrial HD receivers (Europe)
          • IPTV systems
          • portable media players / cell phones with video players, including Android and BlackBerry devices
          • videoconference systems
          • Re:Nice (Score:4, Informative)

            by slim (1652) <`ten.puntrah' `ta' `nhoj'> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:16PM (#31011886) Homepage

            Though some of those are relevant too, the important point about the Apple devices is not so much that they support H.264, but that they don't support anything else (at least, nothing else relevant to the Web)

            Outside of the Web, I care less. The Web is meant to be somewhere where creating/publishing is free to all (ignoring physical hosting costs).

            • Re:Nice (Score:4, Informative)

              by nxtw (866177) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:30PM (#31012138)

              Though some of those are relevant too, the important point about the Apple devices is not so much that they support H.264, but that they don't support anything else (at least, nothing else relevant to the Web)

              Most of these devices have the same limitations as Apple devices; they decode a few things in hardware and nothing else:

              • all Blu-ray players: support MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264
              • many new PCs, including just about all with NVIDIA or ATI GPUs and many Intel GPUs: have at best MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 hardware decoding support
              • nearly all HD satellite receivers, and many countries' terrestrial HD receivers (Europe): support MPEG-2 and H.264
              • IPTV systems: support H.264 usually
              • portable media players / cell phones with video players, including Android and BlackBerry devices: support H.263 and H.264
              • videoconference systems: support H.263 and H.264

              Apple devices use the same hardware decoders as other companies do.

          • by arose (644256)
            Most of those are not relevant in regards to HTML5. Apple's portable devices are, since they can browse the web.
            • by nxtw (866177)

              Most of those are not relevant in regards to HTML5. Apple's portable devices are, since they can browse the web.

              All of these devices are relevant. The same H.264 program can be streamed by a HTML5 client, by Flash, by a video player program, etc. It would be wasteful to have two separate copies of video for devices that support HTML5 and devices that do not.

              Many devices supporting video playback share hardware; for example, the chips found in many standalone media streamers were designed for use in Blu-ra

        • ...Plus who knows how many other closed platforms.

          It's not really about "closed platforms". iPhone/iPads have hardware for decoding h264. They don't have hardware support for Theora.

      • by Sir Homer (549339)
        It's worth noting none of those formats where ever pushed as an Internet standard. We still use JPEG/GIF even though there are better formats out there for over a decade. Sometimes being "industry accepted" is more important then being "the best".
      • by BZ (40346)

        > Remember the CODECs we were using six years ago?

        You mean H.264 (standardized in 2003)?

        • Just because it was standardized doesn't mean it was in use. MPEG-1 was standardised in 1993, but it wasn't until around '98 that people were recommending it as the de-facto standard for Internet video (it was the thing all browsers could play at the time). The computer I had in 2003 was brand new and couldn't even play 720p H.264 without dropping frames, especially with the decoders available at the time. It wasn't until around 2008 that most computers were fast enough for H.264 playback. A few people

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Remember the CODECs we were using six years ago?

        If you count DivX ;-) 3.11 alpha as MPEG4 ASP compliant which isn't quite true but later DivX/Xvid versions were, we've been using the same codec since 1998 only slowly phasing it out with H.264. As for VC-2, there's no wikipedia page for it, the first hit on google has nothing to do with it, the fifth hit is a blog post from 2008 where the last comment says it'll be a near lossless production/archival codec unsuitable for Internet use. So if you ignore all the evidence to the contrary, I guess you could be

      • by pbhj (607776)

        HTML4 has been with us since 1997. There's not much reason to think that HTML5 will be around for less than 6 years.

  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:08PM (#31010790)

    2010: DIVE! DIVE!
    It's free, come and get it

    2016: Up periscope. Look there's someone using it without paying the $799/Stream licensing fee.
    -Arm MPEG LAwyer Torpedoes, FIRE!

    looks like a ambush in slow-motion.

    • It's Compuserve GIF all over again.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Except that in this case X.264 is technically superior to the open alternatives, unlike PNG vs GIF.
        • I thought x264 encoders were free? Of course this is only based on the casual observation that many of the videos at certain websites are encoded that way.
        • Hey, don’t mod him troll! He’s right with what he meant.

          Even though he got H.264 (the patented codec) and x264 (the open implementation) mixed up.

          PNG was a problem back then. Since it could not do any animation. Which was important back then. Other than that it did not have any relevant size or transparency improvements is 8 bit mode, and just was too large in 24 bit (lossless) mode.

          Also, H.264 factually is the best codec out there right now.

          But frankly, I think it will be just like with GIF: NO

          • by pbhj (607776)

            So your argument is that whilst MPEG LA are going to screw everyone over and demand money to license their codec we should continue and use it but just not pay them.

            Nothing wrong with that argument provided you can get it embodied in the law that people/companies are immune to prosecution for non payment of license fees wrt the relevant patents.

            Unisys did collect money on LZW use in GIF if they'd not been bothered about PR they could have collected far more extensively.

    • You hit the nail on the head. MPEG-LA is simply trying to fatten the cow of H264 marketshare so that they can slaughter it with charges in 2016.

      And for those claiming that another codec will be dominant in six years, while that may be possible, MPEG-2 has been around since 1996 and is still one of the most popular video formats 14 years later.
  • A lot of fallout (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:12PM (#31010860)

    I've been personally touched by MPEG LA's patent witch hunt. And not in the good way like Kathleen Fent does.

    My brother in law is the CEO of a small LCD monitor company that uses H.264 decoder chips. He buys these chips from a Taiwanese maker who in turn licenses the patent for H.264 decoding from MPEG LA.

    But MPEG LA has been spamming everyone and anyone vaguely connected to H.264 encoding or playback or even (in this case) sending files across the intarweb. He is expected to succeed if MPEG LA ever takes this to court since the patent is already licensed by the chip vendor and his agreement with them covers him under its indemnity clause.

    However this is a really plain-as-day example of how patent trolls are ruining business for everyone.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      The MPEG LA are hardly patent trolls. The term is so often applied to "anyone who has a patent and dares to enforce it" when it really doesn't mean that at all.

    • by onefriedrice (1171917) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:24PM (#31012030)

      However this is a really plain-as-day example of how patent trolls are ruining business for everyone.

      Please don't dilute the term "patent troll." It has a specific meaning and certainly doesn't apply to a patent pool packager like MPEG-LA. Everybody adopted h.264 with full knowledge that it was covered by several patents. This is certainly not a case of some junk firm patenting prior art and suing everybody. Nobody coerced anyone into using h.264; it just happened to actually be a good codec, so it was adopted by the industry. Nor is it "ruining business for everyone," so I'm not even sure what your point is. Your own anecdotal evidence doesn't lead to this conclusion.

      Is it disappointing that we didn't have a comparable patent-free codec at the time when people started adopting h.264? Yeah, it's too bad. Unfortunately, no amount of sour grapes is going to change what happened.

  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:15PM (#31010920) Homepage Journal

        The MPEG patent thicket is a prime example of the real problem of software patents. If I want to write a video player, it has to play the formats that people encode videos in. The veto power of patents equates to the right to prohibit me, and everyone, from writing a functional video player. I think I already have pretty good info, but there's loads more of this story to tell. Help really appreciated in documenting this:

        swpat.org is a publicly editable wiki.

    • The veto power of patents equates to the right to prohibit me, and everyone, from writing a functional video player.

      Yep, that's pretty much what patents are for.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Waffle Iron (339739)

        Yep, that's pretty much what patents are for.

        Not really. Back in the day, if somebody patented a cotton gin, that didn't stop me from making another machine that cleans cotton which works on a different principle. The existence of the original machine in the market was irrelevant to new competitive entries.

        Today, a good deal of software is subject to the "network effect". That makes it just about impossible to operate in many software markets without being compatible with the most popular protocols, formats or standards. If those things happen to be p

    • by BZ (40346)

      Thing is... the H.264 patents are method patents, not software patents.

      And the methods used seem eminently patentable to me: novel, non-obvious, etc, etc.

      The only issue is that the setup doesn't play well with cases where the marginal unit cost of an encoder or decoder is very close to 0. This is not a software-specific problem, per se; if we had star-trek-like synthesizers available for physical items it would be a problem there too.

    • by Grond (15515)

      Right, that's why there are no functional video players that support H.264. Except for Windows Media Player, which comes free with Windows. And Quicktime/iTunes, which comes free with OS X and are free for Windows. And VLC, which is free and usually comes free with Linux distributions. And MPlayer. And PowerDVD. And Totem. In fact there are at least 20 such players [wikipedia.org], some free, some proprietary. Every modern OS comes with a free, functional video player and there are several options if you don't like

      • Re:Software patents on video codecs didn't start with H.264. MPEG-1 was patented, so was MPEG-2. Royalties were sought in both cases. That didn't stop free and open source encoders and decoders from being produced, and nobody got sued or shut down.

        Back then DMCA was not in existence and ATCA was something the RIAA and MPAA would dream about and forget the next morning. Once ACTA comes to life, They will find a way to kill VLC and anyone who dares to slowdown their cash flow.

        • by Grond (15515)

          Back then DMCA was not in existence and ATCA was something the RIAA and MPAA would dream about and forget the next morning. Once ACTA comes to life, They will find a way to kill VLC and anyone who dares to slowdown their cash flow.

          The DMCA has nothing to do with patents. It's the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Furthermore, decoding H.264 has nothing to do with circumventing DRM, so the DMCA wouldn't apply anyway.

          As for ACTA, well, because of the secret nature of the negotations we don't know what exact

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      The MPEG patent thicket is a prime example of the real problem of software patents. If I want to write a video player, it has to play the formats that people encode videos in. The veto power of patents equates to the right to prohibit me, and everyone, from writing a functional video player. I think I already have pretty good info, but there's loads more of this story to tell. Help really appreciated in documenting this:

      That's why there are patent consortiums. MPEG-LA is one, 3C Entity (and 5C Entity) ar

    • Personally I think that we should consider whether the government should be able to exercise eminent domain for patents in cases like this. The purpose of patents was to encourage people to invest in devising new technology, and so I don't think it's horrible to think the people behind the technology in H264 deserve to have their investment pay off to some degree. On the other hand, H264 being the defacto standard while being patent encumbered is an unacceptable situation.

      • by Grond (15515)

        Personally I think that we should consider whether the government should be able to exercise eminent domain for patents in cases like this.

        Exercising eminent domain in a patent case is usually a bad idea. The compensation the government has to pay for the taking is the value of the patents over their entire term, which in this case is likely to be billions of dollars (for example: Thomson, which is just one member of the MPEG LA patent pool, receives a few hundred million dollars a year in licensing revenu

  • a trap.
    • This is a rake, lying on the ground in plain sight with red markers all over it and a big sign.

      Step on it at your own risk, but don't come crying when the rake hits you in the face.

      After the gif debacle, you would think people would learn.

      • by DinDaddy (1168147)

        This is the rake you describe lying completely across a narrow path, where to by pass it, you must scramble up some very steep rocky embankments to proceed around it.

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Define "people". Big media providers would win big if the "standard" in internet in is forced to a format that take out any potential low-budget competitor. They WANT that it gets massively adopted,so will dump every kind of content that way. Then you have normal people that just use a browser without knowing about the technology behind. And developers of open and closed browsers, plugins and devices that could show those videos, and of open and close apps/devices that could produce somewhat that kind of vi
  • by PPalmgren (1009823) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:21PM (#31011050)

    The first hit is free.

  • By 2016 (Score:2, Insightful)

    we'll be using a different format. Yes, it will be encumbered by patents, DRM and a bunch of other shit we don't even know yet - but it will not be H.264. I don't really see how this extension of free licensing could be profitable to them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      we'll be using a different format. Yes, it will be encumbered by patents, DRM and a bunch of other shit we don't even know yet - but it will not be H.264. I don't really see how this extension of free licensing could be profitable to them.

      You are missing the forest for the trees. The MPLA makes money on licensing fees for encoders and decoders. By offering royalty free streaming for a time, the format becomes popular which means that more encoders and decoders are sold which generates more income.

      It is possible that they may continue to offer free licensing of for distribution through further extensions. Doing it this way rather than just offering blanket permission to stream give them a few advantages:

      1. It allows them to track how many

  • This should be good enough to buy some time for alternative codecs. In my opinion the <video> tag should be treated just like the <img> tag, essentially allowing more or less any video file to be specified as the source. How often do you see xpm images as the src of img tags nowadays? It was one of the original image formats.
    A few years will buy some time for the open source communities to develop some really good codecs.
    Ogg Theora doesn't really have any benefit over mpeg4/h264 except its licen
  • Google will open source VP8 from On2 in a few months, and H.264 will soon be history.

  • by jbeaupre (752124) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:24PM (#31012026)
    Keep in mind that the H264 standard and how it is implemented are two different things. Which is good, and bad, as we'll see. First, patents must be filed within 1 year of public disclose in the US, or before disclosure with PCTs. So any information you find will be unencumbered no more than 21 years after it was disclosed. Since H264 was finalized May 2003, the specification cannot be encumbered after 2024. And many aspects of it (draft specs, for example) will be available to anyone, license free, years before that. Probably some parts of it even now (though possibly such narrow, arbitrary steps that no one would care).

    So the spec is available before 2028, but how about implementing it?

    Well, certain implementations will be covered for many years. In fact, if you come up with a new way to encode or decode H264 today, you can still file a patent. For example: if you discover that by connecting two wires to a squirrel and sending uncompressed video into the squirrel through one wire results in H264 video out the other wire, that's patentable. Freaky, weird, but damn well worth a patent. If you figure out how to do it with a genetically altered squirrel 5000 years from now (hey, you've already go a digital squirrel, let's keep the weirdness going), then you could still get a patent. 5000 years after all the other implementations are free.

    What this means is that over time, people will still file new implementations, but the older ones will also be opening up. Come 2016, there might be a way to do H264 without a patent license if someone clever figures out what pieces are free to use and figures out an alternative to the parts still under patent.
  • by adipocere (201135) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:27PM (#31012098)

    Streaming video needs an Apache. By that, I mean a very standardized server and set of protocols for delivering files encoded in a non-proprietary, free-to-use, free-to-decode, unrestricted-in-every-imaginable-sense manner.

    The source of what has held this back, in my opinion, is that taking giant video files (and you should see how big raw video is) and cramming them down into small, chunkable files which can decode at the end into recognizable images is hard. Hard in the sense of "takes people with a great deal of math knowledge and computer science knowledge to pull off." It's not like HTML, where you are pushing around what are basically text files that you can open in Notepad. It takes a great deal of intellectual know-how and deep domain knowledge to pull this off on the encoding end in some reasonable fashion that doesn't take a lot of CPU cycles.

    The few people who can do this take a long time to figure out a new scheme, and they have to test the living hell out of it. You can write a primitive webserver without too much fuss, it's just a specialized server which kicks out text and binary files on command, after all. Encoding video and serving it, though, is not easy. That's why so much goes into protecting the intellectual property; it was not trivial to create. Wade around in the fifteen profiles for MPEG-4 Part 10 aka AVC aka H.264 for a while and realize that this is not trivial. Hell, it had to be jointly developed by two groups, ITU's video group and MPEG. Take a look at Theora -- even its codebase is descended from something that once took real money to make.

    If streaming media is to have its Apache, an investment of money must be made in finding these highly talented individuals and paying them to make a new, open standard. And code must be made available for an end-to-end implementation on many platforms, everything from encoding to serving (with authentication fun, to boot) to decoding, on Windows, on Unix/Linux, on Macs. With regression tests and tutorials. Plug-ins to be written for the top, say, ten browsers. And a decoder library for Flash. While this is going on, political battles will have to be fought to keep Microsoft, Apple, and other companies out of the loop, or they'll pull the usual and destroy or cripple the product before it reaches market, just as they managed to poison HTML5's video standards.

    None of this is technically impossible, but it will be hard, and it will cost money and political tokens and time and real effort. Can it be done?

  • This should probably be its own story so more people get to see it, particularly those who are defending H.264 or are not aware of all the implications of standardizing on it.

    http://bemasc.net/wordpress/2010/02/02/no-you-cant-do-that-with-h264/ [bemasc.net]

    Here is the lead paragraph:

    A lot of commercial software comes with H.264 encoders and decoders, and some computers arrive with this software preinstalled. This leads a lot of people to believe that they can legally view and create H.264 videos for whatever purpose they like. Unfortunately for them, it ain’t so.

    The article goes on to discuss the limitations on H.264 use in actual practice using examples of actual licenses. As I read it, the authorized software used to encode H.264 videos places strict limits on the use of the resulting video.

  • by Lemming Mark (849014) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:36PM (#31013024) Homepage

    I tried out Dirac for some of my private video collection last night and was quite impressed by the size of files output whilst still having reasonable quality. I shall be trying it out as my own preferred format for ripped DVDs but it is a standard it would be really interesting to see more uptake of. It's worth remembering that Theora is not the only open source and patent free codec out there, nor necessarily even the highest quality one.

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