Universal Music claims it has a private deal with Google to take down YouTube videos it doesn't own

The saga of Universal Music's war on the Mega Song (a song and video recorded by several major artists in support of the online service MegaUpload, which Universal is trying to have censored in the USA through its support of the Stop Online Piracy Act) just got weirder. Many of us were baffled that Universal kept telling YouTube to take down this video, even though it was clear they didn't hold a copyright to it -- a fact reinforced by artists like will.i.am, who insisted that he hadn't authorized Universal to send the takedown notice.

Now, a court filing in the matter from Universal claims that the takedown wasn't issued because Universal claims a copyright in the Mega Song, but rather, they claim that they have a private contract with Google giving them the power to take down videos they dislike, regardless of whether they are the rightsholder.

Your letter could be read to suggest that UMG's rights to use the YouTube "Content Management System" with respect to certain user-posted videos are limited to instances in which UMG asserts a claim that a user-posted video contains material that infringes a UMG copyright. As you know, UMG's rights in this regard are not limited to copyright infringement, as set forth more completely in the March 31, 2009 Video License Agreement for UGC Video Service Providers, including without limitation Paragraphs 1(b) and 1(g) thereof.

No one knows what Paragraphs 1(b) and (g) say (except Googlers and Universal), but the letter excerpted above implies that Universal has some sort of special deal to arbitrarily remove stuff it doesn't like from YouTube, even if that stuff is legal.

UMG claims "right to block or remove" YouTube videos it doesn't own


    1. That’s the problem with SOPA, it isn’t an American Law, it’s an internet law.  The internet isn’t American, but their laws can still affect your internet.


      1. One bright spot in SOPA passing would be that it increases the likelihood that the “World At Large” will wrest ownership of the root zone out of US hands.

        It would amount to a forking of the internet, but in the end, it’d be worth the pain, I think.

        1. I’d love to be as optimistic as you.  But IMO the reality is that all the other western countries will follow, and the ‘less civilised’ (not so much any more) countries are already salivating over these powers.

          Therefore even if much of the internet is decentralised it’d likely be put in the hands of an ultimate power that wouldn’t treat it with any more respect.

      2. Which is why the rest of the world needs to start using a non-US DNS root zone. Have it maintained by an independent organization in a suitably neutral country like Switzerland or Netherland, and ignore everything coming out of official US channels.

    1. Oh god, seriously? I would not expect Google to be involved in this.

      If the last 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that the media companies know fuck-all about the actual law. This is going to turn out to be Universal misinterpreting a contract because they are idiots and assholes.

      1. “I would not expect Google to be involved in this.”

        Really? Have you been paying any attention at all for the past few years? What does Google make most of its money from, ad revenue? Maybe but the cynic in me doubts it. I’m pretty sure most of their cash comes from selling metrics (that’s your browsing habits and mine, friend), and cash coming in related to contracts like the one alluded to above (although this doesn’t exactly square with Google being demonized to shove SOPA/PIPA through Congress). I started becoming leery of Google when they disabled all the old YouTube logins that weren’t associated with a Google login. When they decided that they wouldn’t save your search preferences without a Google login, I got even more apprehensive. This morning, I received a pretty obvious phishing email with a goo .gl URL in it, and decided to try to see the target URL without actually visiting it. Twenty minutes later, I was forced to conclude that while Google swears that you can do this (“Goo .gl short URLs are randomly generated, and the mappings of short URLs to long URLs are publicly accessible”), they give you no apparent means of actually doing so without clicking on the shortened URL and visiting what may well be a malicious site. I never trusted Google all that much. I trust them less than not at all now.

        1. I’m pretty sure most of their cash comes from selling metrics (that’s your browsing habits and mine, friend), and cash coming in related to contracts like the one alluded to above.

          [citation needed]

          1. “What does Google make most of its money from, ad revenue? Maybe but the cynic in me doubts it. I’m pretty sure most of their cash comes from selling metrics (that’s your browsing habits and mine, friend), and cash coming in related to contracts like the one alluded to above (although this doesn’t exactly square with Google being demonized to shove SOPA/PIPA through Congress).”

            I think I pretty clearly identified my assumption as just that. No “[citation needed]”.

            Taking a quote out of context when the original is right above it for all to see is a pretty lame debate tactic.

          1. Really? That’s a crapload of work, especially considering that tinyurl lets you select a checkbox on their home page, and from then on all tinyurls will direct there first and identify the target URL. I suspect other URL shorteners do this also, but I haven’t had occasion to test them yet. I’m also quite unsure as to how, exactly, to accomplish this as I am not an advanced HTML user, and I cannot find the path to the page that this linked from. Simply cutting off everything after .com results in a Not Found error. Google is becoming less user-friendly every day.

  1. Can we hijack this thread and start talking about alternatives to Youtube and Google in general? Anybody wanna stump for Vimeo or see something on kickstarter that’s easier to use and is committed to avoid censorship deals like this?

    If companies like Google are going even beyond SOPA in terms of doling out the ability to censor material, we have to stop using them. It’s as simple as that.

    Youtube essentially has a monopoly, when you need look for a video, that’s where you go, it’s got most of the market. Something must be done and there isn’t going to be any institutional help here, so it’s up to we the users to make the switch.

    1. Vimeo only allows 100% original content. Most of whats on YT is neither original nor uploaded by the copyright owner(s). There are alternatives, but for most YT users/uses Vimeo isnt one of them.

    2. You don’t need youtube if you can do the following 3 things: 1) setup a free or for pay CDN account with some provider 2) encode your video right for html5 3) embed your video on your page (or any other)

      1. I think the principle problem isn’t technology, it’s distribution. Everyone knows to go to youtube if they want to find a video of, well anything.

        There’s needs to be an alternative that is easier to use, so that people won’t hesitate to switch in large numbers.

        I wonder if there’s a way to setup a portal, where users can go to both search and post, but that that uses widely distributed hosting, because taking on youtube without tens (more likely hundreds) of millions in start-up for hosting and traffic, just won’t be possible.

        1. I think such a “portal” (many in fact) would be possible in principle. Would require some work to prepackage as a cloud-app you can run on your favorite cloud provider, and these portals would auto-discover each other so any portal can query the cloud of portals.

          1. And if you are serving media that goes “viral”? I haven’t used a content delivery service other than traditional web host… is there a cap/overage on used bandwidth if there is a spike?

          2. In answer to the question above, you’d really have to do it peer to peer style, with the file being downloaded (let’s say a temp file that lasts 24 hours or until you manually clear it, whichever is sooner). If it goes viral and the trackers are sophisticated and update often, it should be able to accomodate fairly rapid growth.

            It would probably be best for say, a beiber style viral ramp, as opposed to say, uncensored US domestic terrorist attack footage on the morning of. Ramping over a day or two should be easy, but minutes/hours would be dicey.

      2. That works great until your video gets popular and you get an email from your hosting after a few days that says you’ve exceeded your bandwidth quota for the month and if you want to upgrade it will only cost $10k/month for the amount of data you are serving. 

        Or worse, you don’t get that email and you find yourself with a $60k bill at the end of the month. 

        This was the primary reason streaming video was a near total failure on the internet before Youtube arrived.  Hosting costs killed anything that got even remotely popular. 

          1. companies that distribute web scale content over CDNs pay big bucks for the privilege… where are the free CDNs you suggest that will still distribute your content gratis when it gets boingboinged?

    3. “Youtube essentially has a monopoly, when you need look for a video, that’s where you go”

      Maybe somebody could build a site where people could type in terms describing what they’re looking for, and it would provide links to other sites that had such content.

      Okay, you’re right, silly idea. Probably no money to be made that way.

      1. Where that fails is that it ignores the user production/contribution/community aspect, which is probably the most crucial bit.

        Also, there’s a reason people go to youtube.com instead of google.com when they’re looking for videos. People want to post their own stuff, and have their friends not have to sift through a thousand results with higher rankings in the wider web to find a video of their baby, or whathaveyou. You need users, with their own individual spaces.

        I don’t think we’re to the point where you can just search for someone’s video in a general search engine and easily find it, not to mention be likely to be able to play in any browser, or have their host handle viral traffic, etc… Not to mention trying to get a site and get video online if you don’t know about blogging/sharing platforms (hello godaddy bills and trying to learn web development from scratch).

        However, it’s a beautifully democratic dream. Maybe someone can tell me that its closer than I think.

  2. The first question herein is: Is this deal real, or a fiction?

    If the latter, BOOOO to Universal. Lying is hardly new, but it’s still frowned upon in legal contexts.

    If the former, BOOOO to both companies, for reasons that should be obvious (though the question remains: what possessed Google to give Universal such a right?)

    1. If Universal is lying, I anticipate a big PR smackdown from Google by Monday or Tuesday (once the lawyers have had time to look over it all), and it will be glorious. It’ll also hurt Universal’s reputation in their bullshit crusade against Megaupload, and they might go far enough to do something that a judge will deem judicially important, so they’ll fuck themselves in court. If UMG is making shit up, I anticipate that Google (being a vocal opponent of SOPA and its ilk) will be glad to spank them in public as much as they can without burning their bridges at the corporate level.

      If Universal is RIGHT… Google has just felt the second shoe drop on what they HAD to know was a large PR disaster coming up. And I will be quite disappointed and start looking for alternatives if they’re abandoning “Don’t be evil” behind our backs. Universal, meanwhile, is just continuing to be scum and playing by the rules they set up for themselves (I’m no less outraged, but I’m less surprised).

      1. Google abandoned “don’t be evil” years and years ago.  Glad people are finally getting the memo.

    2. If it is the former, could Google have been motivated to do something to pacify the asshats at UMG to avoid having to fight multiple battles on multiple fronts?  Viacom is STILL suing them for a kajillion dollars, despite losses over and over.

      Google most likely made an agreement that seemed ok, until UMG went crazed with it.  Sorta like the extra special tools HotFile gave WB, and WB went apeshit taking down stuff they just didn’t like and stuff they never confirmed was their property.

      I hope this contract gets forced out into the light of day, I want congress critters to have to answer questions about granting anything to corporations who when given any latitude always exceed their rights and violate the law.  Just come out an admit they paid you enough to worry about 1.4 million made up jobs, so you decided to screw the rest of the people in the country.

  3. I wish people would start using Vimeo more, it’s better quality and you don’t have any of the shite associated with Youtube

        1. i find the vimeo player is unreliable, and handles playback and buffering poorly, and sometimes doesn’t work at all.  Do they have an html5 alternative like youtube does?

          1. That’s my experience with youtube.

            I think its more of an anecdotal thing.  i.e. they’re probably perfectly comparable but everyones experience differs enough for people to prefer one over the other.

            YouTube’s player causes me no end of issues, HTML5 and Flash.

          2. Everyone’s experiences do vary, although @twitter-26509581:disqus it is strange that you have issues with both YouTube’s flash and html 5 player, usually people only have issues with one or the other, but i guess this further highlights how different each users experience can be.  I wish Vimeo wasn’t so unusable, as I like their site. *sighs* guess that is just life.  I’m in Canada so perhaps my location is a factor.

          3. Not really, but at least I’ve never had an issue with it.  It always just works.  The interface doesn’t really do anything for me though.  I like Vimeo’s interface better, just wish I didn’t constantly have issues with it.

  4. If true: Since the videos were removed as DMCA takedowns, wouldn’t this make Google complicit in making false copyright infringement claims. This would compromise their safe-harbour position on ALL copyright disputes, not just the ones involving UMG.

    1. UMG is claiming they had the video removed under private contract terms with Google, not under DMCA. If UMG’s statements are correct, shame on Google’s lawyers for signing such a deal. Turning editorial control over to an external entity isn’t even in Google’s interest, let alone the interest of their users.

      1. It sounds like it’s about time for YouTube to chime in on this, that’s for sure.  They need to at least come out an explicitly say what process caused the Mega Song and the Tech News Today videos to be taken down.  (Within that Ars article is a claim from UMG that the latter was taken down by an automated system within YouTube’s CMS, and they never requested it, which sounds like BS.)

        Still, if YouTube’s got any balls, they’ll immediately nullify their deal with UMG and put all those videos back up. Especially since that letter quoted here was sent to YouTube and seems like a childish “neener neener, you said I could borrow your toy, but you never said I had to give it back!”

  5. Not the I endorse or condone any such action but would it even be possible to DDOS google or youtube? Such action was taken against credit card corporations for refusing to serve wikileaks donations but google is designed for and does take sooo much traffic… Is there any other recourse other than to boycott?
    Then again I suppose Universals site  probably couldn’t hold up to the Mastercard DDOS treatment…

    1. I’m not sure about YouTube, but I’m almost positive that due to the nature of Google it would be impossible to DDOS.  YouTube’s probably the same, but I know nothing of its infrastructure.

    2. Before you start DDOSing Universal, please be sure you target the correct Universal as Universal Music Group has no relation to NBC Universal anymore. Universal Music Group is owned by Vivendi, while NBC Universal is owned by Comcast and GE

  6. Vimeo is NOT the option even though they do have great video quality…

    98 % of whats on YT is not allowed on Vimeo if you look @ their guidelines for uploading..

      1. And you have 4,000,000 individual websites each with a crappy video on them.  CDN is expensive if you want more than a handful of people to watch your videos and encoding video isn’t the most likely activity for your average you tuber.

        I notice that you’re a programmer, and I have to say that this is the perfect programmer solution.  On paper it’s flawless, but in the real world it manages to be flawed at every step.  The issue being that you forgot to account for human beings.

        (this wasn’t supposed to be snarky btw, I work with coders/programmers a lot, and your idiosyncrasies always fascinate me).

        1. CDNs are not expensive. You can use https://www.cloudflare.com/ which has a free plan. You can also use http://aws.amazon.com/cloudfront/ which is $0.12/10 terrabyte and 0.0075$/10k requests.

          For example if you made a really successful video that was watched by say 2 million people and the video is 20mb in streaming size, and assuming all of them watch it trough, it would cost you $0.48 for 40TB of traffic + 1.5$ for 2 million requests = 2$

    1. Vimeo even has issues when posting entirely your own creative work: http://gamedesignreviews.com/scrapbook/how-vimeo-lost-me/

  7. Quick question. If SOPA provides no penalties for false copyright take-downs, then what’s stopping everyone on this thread from auto-mailing takedown requests for everything that supporters of SOPA post online?

    What’s stopping someone from developing a tool to allow anyone to simultaneously send false takedown notices for every piece of content that every supporter of SOPA has ever published online?

    Kind of like DDOS’ing the takedown notice infrastructure? If sending a false takedown notice has no real consequences, then why not give a nice demonstration of why this is a flaw?

    1. This is a frequent question and it should be answered. The thing you need to understand about takedown regimes (the DMCA, SOPA) is that they provide a immunity from prosecution for intermediaries (web hosts, YouTube, etc) in exchange for doing whatever the statute demands of them. In the case of the DMCA, if you remove files in response to a takedown notice, you then escape liability should those files be found to infringe copyright. If you *don’t* take them down, then you might be held jointly liable (with the person who posted the file) in any future court case that determines the files infringe copyright.

      This means that service providers are free to ignore takedown requests, provided they’re confident that these requests won’t result in a trial, or, if they do, that there won’t be victory for the claimants.

      In practice, this means that if you, personally, send Rep Lamar Smith’s ISP a SOPA notice or a DMCA notice, they’re likely to look at it and say, “Huh, this guy is a crank, he’s probably not going to go to court, plus that Smith guy’s a total copyright nut, no way he’s infringing,” and they disregard your letter.

      But when the reverse happens – when Smith’s office complains that something you’ve posted to your site infringes copyright – your ISP is apt to make the reverse calculus: “That Smith is a powerful guy, he’s probably going to follow through on this threat and there’s a good chance we’ll end up in court. Meanwhile, this cusomter’s worth, what. $20 a month to us? Forget it, take it down.”

      1. And that calculus is what gives UMG’s statements about their contract terms with Google some credibility. Google may have wanted UMG’s content badly enough to let UMG screw over all the rest of their providers.

      2. I wonder how a calculated campaign to get celebrities to do this might go? Literally anyone with any kind of national name recognition changes the calculus as you’ve described it.

        Maybe instead of setting up the mass-mail tool for Joe Breifcase, you set it up for Jane Gets-Recognized…

        One celebrity could use the tool to create (tens, hundreds of) thousands of notices that are likely to be taken seriously. If you can recruit five or ten, the power of the campaign grows exponentially.

        Why not We The People leveraging the power of celebrities instead of the other way around?

  8. What a peculiar letter.  UMGI but not UMG (or something) didn’t use the DMCA to take the video down but a restraining order can’t be applied because the DMCA has no provision for a restraining order.

    How does that work?

    1. Google can pull stuff down because they feel like it (though they have to be careful how they use this because of their safe harbor status) in addition to obeying DMCA takedown notices. If a label fuckwad negotiated a procedural backdoor with Google that lets them direct Google to pull the plug on a video, the DMCA isn’t involved. IANAL so I can’t say if this threatens Google’s safe harbor.

      Edit, I didn’t read TFA before commenting. I think they basically said this:
      1) The request for a restraining order is inappropriate and unapplicable because the DMCA provides for penalties against abusive takedown claims, but not the act of filing claims to begin with (in other words, they claim the DMCA does not allow for preventative action, just punitive damages after the fact)
      2) #1 doesn’t matter anyway because they’re not using the DMCA in the first place and instead are using this previously-unknown private puppeteer agreement to get YouTube to yank files. I read it as they were implying that this contract superceded the law.

      1. My point is, that if the take down was done under the DMCA then apparently there are limits to a court restraining order but if it wasn’t done under the DMCA then DMCA limts to restraining orders don’t apply. 

        1. And what UMG is claiming, I think, is that the restraining order doesn’t apply in either case because they have their special secret takedown sniper rifle in their contract, as well as the DMCA.

          Which makes the restraining order doubly invalid or something. Fuck knows what passes for logic in their lawyers’ heads these days. They all totally lost it about a decade ago when they decided their new revenue stream would be suing the shit out of their customers and innocent grandmas based on faulty IP-based targeting.

  9. Universal? Fuck you. Fuck every single one of you with the axles of the supercars you drive. You’re dinosaurs and you’re going to die the death you deserve for trying to prevent the inevitable future from arriving.

    Google? I hope this isn’t true; I want to believe it isn’t true. If it is, you deserve to lose your safe harbor, and then we’ll see how well YouTube does.

  10. Note to UMG:
    Fire your head of PR.  They are obviously taking all their plays from the book –  “How to make enemies and alienate people, by Ima Dickwad”  You’d have to work very hard to handle this fiasco any worse, if that is even possible.  You lose, every one loses.  Good job with that. :-(

  11. Demonstrates that the secret contracts between corporations – for sake of competition they and their economics priests claim – are as much a threat to democracy as the abuse of national security claims by government.

  12. Looks like we are about to find out if Google does Evil heh? If large corporations own the censorship of YouTube then its time to find alternative places to exchange video. No one will have any trust in them.

  13. What about an html based live torrent player?

    Let’s say you go to a site, call it torrenttube.com, where you can search for and post torrented videos and instead of downloading it to your machine, you stream it to the video player on the site. By using the site, you agree to keep a temp file of the video you just watched for a specified period of time and make it available to others, and/or download it permanently, agreeing to share it with others.

    A browser-based app that’s as easy to use as youtube. It would still be subject to SOPA, but you could run it on a tiny budget and feasibly remain independent of folks like UMG.

  14. People have been saying that Google is evil for years; they have too much money to not be evil.  This, I believe, is the revelation those people have been waiting for.

  15. geez, makes you pine for the days of geocities and the fact nobody quite knew what to do with the internet yet.  I’ll pull my stuff off of youtube, yeah that’ll teach them.

  16. I don’t like this at all.  It’s anti-democratic.  At the same time, it’s exactly what BIG MEDIA (ala tv, radio, newspaper) have done forever.    Cynically calm.  -100 points to Gryphontube.

  17. Just to play devil’s advocate, it seems that YouTube should be able to take down videos at any time for any reason (or no reason) at all. Right? That’s what private websites do, they post what they want to post, and they take down user submitted material they don’t want. 

    It also doesn’t seem unusual that YouTube would have an agreement with Universal that allowed Universal to have major input about what goes on the site. This happens all the time in business. Company A does a lot of business with Company B. If company A does some stuff that really pisses off Company B, and company B complains about it, Company A may find it’s in their best interest to listen to Company B and adjust their actions as necessary.

    YouTube is a site that serves the public good by providing entertainment. They have decided that they can better serve the public by taking down the video in question. And they may be right, if you are defining the public as a big old population of people who like to watch mindless crap on YouTube.

    I do not know enough about the relationship between Google and YouTube, or the nature of Google’s safe harbor status, to comment on that aspect of this story. Is there a primer on those relationships somewheres?

    From where I sit, while I agree it’s unfortunate that YouTube has taken the video down, and I think that DMCA et al need to be continually monitored and challenged, I don’t see why people think that YouTube should operate like a public access tv channel that is expected to show whatever is submitted.  

  18. Google owns the servers.  Google has the right to control what content is on their servers.  Google has the right to assign control of content to 3rd parties via contract.  As someone who runs servers, these rights matter to me.

    1. There is  difference between doing something that is a right and doing something that is moral. If Google decided to remove terabytes of garbage with low views very few people would care. If Google hired a third party to make that analysis and remove the content, very few people would care. Allowing a third party to remove speech that the third party does not like in exchange for access to their catalog (which I don’t even think Google has): that is chilling. 

    2. Although I agree that Google has the right to do exactly what you put forward, there might be a very valid legal complaint that this is not the service that Google has put forward to their users. That they may be engaged in deceptive business practices which may be against the law. 

      The questions really dealing with Google are:
       1. Did they have this sort of agreement with UMG? 
      2. Do they have this sort of agreement with anyone else?
      3. Is this Monopolistic cartel like behavior in an anti-trust sense?
      4. Is this in tune with Google’s terms of service? 
      5. To what extent is Google then acting as an editor vs just responding to a DMCA? (It is my understanding that Editorial decisions make them responsible for everything on the site in a way that just hosting content does not.)

      I think this situation might be far more complex than these are my toys and I can just do what I want sort of paradigm. As a consumer within a market these regulations matter to me.

      1. 6. What are the consequences to Google’s Safe Harbor status with YouTube if they are performing extralegal takedowns on behalf of a third party?

        This is of course predicated on UMG telling the truth here–which might come down to arguing over the meaning of individual words in the contract and would likely go to court for a judge to tell UMG and Google which one of them was going to their room to think about what they’ve done and which one gets a cookie before naptime.

        Edit: Need more coffee. I realized that I basically rephrased your last point. Please direct all likes about my comment to Ted Brennan’s comment above. :D

  19. It’s time to set the players (including the EFF) down in front of some Congresscritters and let them get a proper grilling.

    1. This assumes the Big Media Groups would actually listen to EFF rather than just point them to the door, or retreat to a not-recorded-for-the-public meeting without ’em.

  20. SOPA will destroy Universal Music.  If people once again start trading movies with each, (just emailing each other movies) instead of going online to find content, the large media players will really start falling fast.  Their clients aren’t us, their clients are advertisers. 

  21. One great way to test if this agreement actually exists is for everyone to post slanderous videos about Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge.  I suggest you tag them, “UMG CEO Lucian Grainge is a Pig Fucker”  or something.

    Then if all these videos mysteriously disappear a few days later, we’ll know for sure.

    1. No no no, slander will get you in trouble and give YouTube a valid reason to yank your video. Post op/ed videos stating that it is your opinion that UMG CEO Lucian Grainge is a Pig Fucker (how’s that for SEO fodder? this could go somewhere), and feel free to expand on why you think so.

      I have also not found conclusive evidence that he has NOT murdered infants and played a grisly form of ‘dollhouse’ with their mutilated corpses. I’m not saying he did, but there is a lack of evidence saying he didn’t.

      (Yes, yes, null hypothesis, if you’re going to argue that my reasoning is flawed, you are missing the point, and your sarcasm meter might be broken.)

  22. Doesn’t it infringe the rights of the actual rights holders if UM stops them asserting their rights in the manner they choose? What’s next? Will they try to stop record stores, Amazon and iTunes from selling music from competing labels?

  23. Honestly, I gotta think that either UMG is mischaracterizing their agreement with Google or Google’s lawyers didn’t do their job. If you’re a company like Google, you don’t knowingly bet the good will your company’s earned on the legal discretion of partners like UMG.

  24. “No one knows what Paragraphs 1(b) and (g) say….”  

    Where’s a fucking hacker when you need one? It’s this kind of garbage that needs to be pilfered and leaked! Come On!

    1. I don’t think “hacking” Google to find this information out is wise. Be patient and UMG will be forced to show it in court if they want to use it as a defense against Megaupload. Google will provide it.

      Not EVERYTHING needs to be handled Wikileaks-style.

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