Session: Blockchain Technology for Authors: What It Is and How You Can Leverage It
Roanie Levy is an internationally recognized champion of creator rights and serves as CEO and President of Access Copyright, a collective that distributes millions of dollars annually in licensing royalties to creator and publisher affiliates. Roanie’s going to discuss the pressure authors are under to generate content and the challenges we have trying to receive payment when our work is used. Blockchain technology holds the potential to change this. The session will address Blockchain technology’s potential for creators and introduces an innovative new service (fan-to-fan sale of eBooks) that leverages this technology. Learn what Blockchain is, how it works, and what it means for you.
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Format: Video Interview
Audience: All Levels
This post is part of London Book Fair Self-Publishing Advice Conference (#SelfPubCon2019), an online author conference that showcases the best self-publishing advice and education for authors across the world — harnessing the global reach of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ network. Our self-publishing conference features well-known indie authors and advisors, for 24 sessions over 24-hours, in a one-day extravaganza of self-publishing expertise straight to your email inbox. We hope you enjoy this session. Let us know if you have any questions or input on this self-publishing topic. Visit our Facebook Group and join in the conversation there, or leave your questions and feedback in the comments section below.
Hello everyone. First, I’d like to thank the Alliance of Independent Authors for having invited us to come and put a seminar together for you on blockchain. And I’d like to thank all of you for taking the time to join us today. I know there are many, many interesting seminars to choose from and I am really pleased and glad that you decided to join this one. So this is part of SelfPubCon 2019 and the session you are joining is one that will focus on Blockchain for Creators, the Future of Content and Monetization and the Next Era of Digital Interactions. So first, who am I? My name is Roanie Levy and I am the CEO of Prescient Innovations and the president and CEO of Access Copyright. In a moment I will tell you a little bit more about who Access Copyright since it is really the impetus for the work that we’re doing with blockchain and the creation of Prescient Innovation.
I’ve spent two decades really being the champion, a champion of creative rights both domestically here in Canada and internationally. And in the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the emerging technologies, especially blockchain to see how it might impact the work that creators do and I’m really pleased to be sharing some of our learnings. In this session I will introduce blockchain. I’ll talk a little bit about the reality versus the hype around blockchain. I will share with you our point of view on blockchain and its applications for creators. I will talk about a use case around stand to stand sale of ebooks that we’re quite interested in and are building out and would love to have you join us in our endeavors. And I will also speak about Prescient, which is the organization that is essentially now conducting the work that we are doing on blockchain.
So at first a few words on who Access Copyright. Access Copyright is a copyright management organization. And more specifically we are reproduction rights organization. We were created 30 years ago to deal with a new technology. At the time the photocopier, increasingly it was being used in educational institutions and businesses and governments to copy printed works. There was a lot of concern that it was cannibalizing on sales. And more importantly, there was concerns that creators are not able to monetize this kind of use of their work. So collective RO’s were created around the world in order to license the use, the reuse of printed works and Access Copyright specifically was created 30 years ago. And since our creation, we’ve distributed over $400 million in royalties out to creators and publishers. We are the collective voice of creators here in Canada. We represent over 12,000 visual artists and authors and over 600 publishers. And at the heart of what we do, really what it comes down to, is rights management. We understand the needs of content creators and know the importance of accurately identifying rights holder.
So let’s take a small stroll down memory lane, revisiting how technology has evolved over the years. So, as I mentioned, Access Copyright was created 30 years ago as were reproduction rights organizations around the world and we emerged as a result of the photocopier, that was a technology at that time and we were created in order to deal with infringement with parsing, with the copying, unauthorized copying of work that was happening. And here too, we were reacting to a technology. In the 2000 is when we see the emergence of the Internet. And the unauthorized use of work skyrocketed. Here too right holders were reactive to the technology dealing with the technology after it had been kind of installed and people are, were using words. Now today we are looking to the future. There is much, much talk and much interest in how emerging technologies are going to redefine our digital life, our digital interaction. Everybody talks about a kind of a second coming of the Internet.
And we are at the very early stages of that development and the technologies that are mostly going to impact our future digital lives has to do with artificial intelligence and increasingly as well blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology, DLT.
Today we’re in a position to be proactive to actually participate and be one of the architects of the new digital interactions. And that is a very exciting time to be doing this work. And when we consider how these technologies has impacted unauthorized use. You think of the 80s, there was some unauthorized use, it felt like a lot at the time, but it does not compare at all to what happened in the 2000s. So by the 2000s, the unauthorized use was on steroids. And as we look to the future, the risk and what we must plan for and ensure that the infrastructure that technology infrastructure of the future doesn’t do is exacerbate the amount of unauthorized use that is happening and make it even more difficult for creators to get their just rewards. Let’s make sure that as we look to the future, we are fixing some of the challenges we are facing today with the technology and unauthorized use and the ability to properly monetize on our works, instead of exacerbating the problem.
So technology has resulted in creators having limited control over their content. There is ubiquitous availability and subsequent commoditization of content, creative work and piracy issues are rampant and discoverability is difficult and there’s a compromise, this has all compromised the interests of creators and users. When we look at piracy, as I said, piracy is rampant and it often renders copyright law and digital rights management ineffectual. On a discoverability side, there’s an abundance of content and it has made it difficult to stand out or to be discovered.
When we think of value distribution, we look at how platforms have taken over much of the interactions, are the new middlemen in content today and the value driven by creative work today, often unfairly distributed across various actors in the content value chain.
And creators have never experienced more exposure and been paid so little for their content. And on the user side, the only, the end user has limited means to verify and trust that the information provided, that the content provided about a creative work or its creators is in fact accurate. And so the question we ask ourselves as we stand at this point in time in history where we are foreseeing a huge new wave of digital transformation is how might we leverage the new technologies to disrupt the state of affairs in order to ensure and enhance the value of creative work to creators and users alike?
So when we imagine the future, there are three questions we ask ourselves. What if creators did fully control how their works are used? What if users can easily discover trusted content? And what if the exchange of value generated by content was transparent? What might the future of rights management look like?
So we believe that a distributed ledger technology and machine learning or artificial intelligence has the potential to rewrite our digital interactions. You will have heard if you’ve been following talk about blockchain and artificial intelligence, people talk about the second era of the digital age. And we believe that these technologies have the potential to give control back to creators and to publishers, these technologies can enable new economic structures that will ensure their rights information is available and acknowledge it’s active financial transaction involving content. Content will have its own unique id that will be connected to the rights holders. Creative works will have the potential to operate as self contained businesses.
There’ll be a transparent line of sight into how a work generates value and there will be a more equitable distribution of value from the creative work among those that participate in the success of the work. And we’ve already seen the technology start making its way through various parts of the economy because the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed. So we started to see the new age of digital disruption in various pockets. It started in financial services. We’re seeing a lot of activity as well in supply chain and other industries. But before we talk about what it might mean to creators, let’s unpack a little bit what blockchain is. The blockchain is essentially the coming together of three technologies that have existed for a while, p to p and that’s kind of Napster, for those that were active back then, cryptography and behavioral economics. So it’s the coming together of these three technologies in a novel way that has opened up this potential.
The best definition I found for blockchain is the one that’s up on the screen, but let’s unpack it together. So in essence the blockchain is a shared programmable cryptographically secure and therefore trusted ledger, which no single user controls and which can be inspected by anyone. So the reference to programmable is a reference to something that you will have heard about called smart contract. It’s essentially that this database kind of operates like a small software program and can execute on if/then statements. If this happens, then do that. So that programmable aspect of a blockchain, of information that’s on a blockchain, it is quite powerful. And we’ll see how in a few moments. So it’s a ledger and the ledger is essentially a list of digital records. And these digital digital records are grouped together and these groupings of digital records are called blocks. And these groupings of digital records called blocks are linked together by cryptography. Hence the term blockchain.
Everything is timestamped in a blockchain and transparent. So list of records linked together by cryptography, timestamped, transparent that can execute, let’s call it simple commands of if/then nature information held on a blockchain exists as a shared and continually reconciled database. So I mentioned some of these already but it’s worth going through it again. Blockchains are transparent. Now not all blockchain participants are able to use data added to the chain. It depends on what kind of blockchain you’re dealing with. If it’s a public blockchain, the world is able to see the data that’s on the blockchain. If it’s a private blockchain then only authorized participants are able to see the data that is on a blockchain and it is possible to also have hybrid blockchain where some of the data is viewed by the world and some of the data is only viewed by authorized participants.
Now this transparency is what brings on trust. That’s where the characteristic of trust comes from. And October 2015, The Economist had a cover story on blockchain and it’s called Blockchain The Trust Machine. Blockchain connected data blocks establishes the trust. Now the trust is in the data, not in the participant, but the trust is in the data and because we can trust the data, we do not need to know the participants and we don’t need to trust that participants in the transaction because we can trust the data. Now, by enabling transparency and trust you can now see how blockchain will replace some of the activities traditionally required to establish this trust in the process. So easy ones to think about is like the bank that’s in the middle of two financial, the transaction between two people, this will lead to fewer third parties. It does not mean that all intermediaries will disappear. Rules of intermediaries will change over time given that there’s less of a need for the role of trust to happen via an intermediary.
And the last characteristic that I’d like to mention about blockchain is that blockchains are auditable. So blockchain data is immutable, it is everlasting, it creates an exhaustive of recordkeeping. People talk about blockchain as being temper evidence you could see in data has been tampered with. People refer to blockchains as being append only. So if you need to correct data, you need to append new data. So there is always a trail of the data that happens on, that is available on a blockchain. Alright, so some reality versus hype.
What is the state of the technology today? So we’re still in the very early days of blockchain and of those technologies and it’s changing very, very rapidly. Now having said that, it’s sufficiently evolved and mature so that we can start seeing and have started seeing the implementation of blockchain technologies in certain aspects of the economy. There are questions of scalability, particularly vis a vis public blockchains, and there are questions as well about the interoperability of block chain because at this point I’m sure you have realized that there is more than one blockchain.
Early adopters, as I said, are already reimagining new business models and we’re already seeing the use of blockchain kind of coming into various areas of economy, but mass adoption will take time. It will probably require a killer app such as email. The email was if you’d like the killer app that brought everybody online. That’s the last thing is that blockchain is not a panacea. It is not an answer to every problem. It is not all use cases that require a blockchain. If there is no need for a shared database that is used by multiple parties, there’s probably no need for a blockchain.
If only one entity generates transactions and modifies the repository, no need for a blockchain.
However, there is mistrust that exists between the parties that generate transactions and blockchain, maybe an interesting technology to look at more than one gatekeeper to enforce trust. Blockchain may be interesting to look at. If their interactions or dependencies between transactions that is created, that are created by different entities, again, this is another situation where blockchain maybe an interesting technology to look at it.
One question that I’m often asked is “Is blockchain going to eliminate piracy?” Unfortunately, the answer today is I don’t think so. It will provide new avenues for content monetization. It will allow to identify certain pirated work. It will allow the ability to stream works so that were a players want to make sure that the work is not pirated, they have the ability to do so, but outright eliminating piracy is unlikely for the foreseeable future. Let’s talk a little bit of time now looking at how to think about blockchain in the context of content and content monetization? So we started working on blockchain and warning about blockchain about two and a half years ago, and one of the things that we wanted to be able to do was to discuss blockchain as a we got really excited about the technology with the members of Access Copyright who are creators and publishers. And it was a hard thing to explain. And so we, in order to help us be better about educating about blockchain, we came up with this framework that we ended up calling the three A’s of smart content. So just like your TV when it becomes a smart TV, when you have a smart TV versus just, you know, one of those old play TVs, now you’re able to interact with your TV, your TV can deliver information to you and you could ask your TV things that in the past you couldn’t, there was no interaction. So same thing with smart content. There’s a lot more interaction with the content that is now possible.
And the three A’s referred to attribution, authentication and automation. So attribution is content that knows who its creators and rightful owners are, as the content circulates and moves around and gets used, you at anytime can ping it and know exactly who the rights holders and creators are and have a mean to contact them.
Authentication, it’s content that knows who is authorized to use it, who has access rights to the content and automation is concept that can transact on its own without third party interference based on defined rules. Some use cases will rely just on attribution, other use cases will rely on two of the three A’s and some use cases, as we imagine the future of content monetization and rights management, will be live on all three of the three A’s. But let me give you examples of those three A’s in action. Some of them, some of the examples I will give is related to the content industry and some are in other areas, but you can see the proxy or how that can be relevant for content.
So for attribution, a good example of an attribution use case is food tracking on the blockchain. So Viance is a company that does food tracking, the thinking there is that your able to trace, for example, a fish from the place that it is fish to your plate in a restaurant or to a store. Same thing with meat from the farm to the store. You could trade meat, so if there’s a recall then you know exactly which packages of meat that needs to be recalled and you don’t have to do these mass recalls. And Walmart has already implemented the use of blockchain for food tracking. Another example that’s often given and being piloted is the tracking of conflict minerals. Everledger is a London based company that tracks diamonds, by putting on blockchain attributes of the diamond and the certificate number that’s also etched on the crown of the film.
An example of authentication is let’s say that students and teachers have a pre authorized access to content. So there are institutions have already licensed access to a piece of content and just based on their blockchain profile, they’re able to unlock access to that content. Another example of authentication would be with Blockchain for Change. That is a New York City startup, which provides homeless people with a smartphone that is preloaded with blockchain identities and which provides the homeless person access to various services. So the profile of the homeless person and the connection of that profile to certain services unlocks things for them.
An example of automation is Ujo, which is a blockchain that allows for a clear and transparent framework using smart contracts to distribute royalty payments at the point of purchase of the musical work.
So as we worked and did a lot of research on blockchain, we ask ourselves, is this real? All of these amazing promises of blockchain seem like, you know, Nirvana fo creators. Will it really happen this way? And can blockchain really deliver on these promises? And at the time when we were looking at this, there were very few use cases that were actually being piloted. There are lots of white papers and proof of concepts, but there was very little out there that was actually being piloted. And we thought, “Well, let’s come up with an idea is that today’s technology would make it very difficult to do, but that blockchain promises to make simple. And then let’s see if we could kind of build our own proof of contact.” So this was a thought exercise, not really an activity to develop a product that we knew we wanted to put out in the market.
It was a way to continue our understanding of where blockchain might take us into the future. And so we brainstormed about various different ideas that when we looked at the characteristics of the three A’s might be possible different use cases. And we came up with this idea that we lead are called influencer, which is the fan to fan sale of ebooks. So we all know about p two p and the Napster days and Pirate bay, et cetera. But what if we actually, monetize that p to p, peer to peer fan to fan Interaction so that when the exchange happens, there would be eventually purchase and when that exchange of value took place the authors and the other rights holders would be automatically compensated based on predefined roles. So the use case that you’re seeing up there on the screen is Sarah’s reading a book and thinks that Jack will like it.
So she recommends the book to Jack and Jack is now as a result of the recommendation by Sarah able to preview the book and how much Jack is able to preview is dependent on the creator or the publisher’s decision. Maybe it’s 10% of a work. Maybe it’s till chapter four because something really happens in chapter five and if we read til chapter four, you’ll definitely want to read chapter five, whatever it may be based on the individual work. Now Jack, after having previewed the work actually wants to, you know, move to chapter five and decide to purchase the book.
Jack buys the book and money is done at the point of sale, re-distributed to the various authors of the book, the publisher, perhaps the jacket cover artists, perhaps a small percentage to the photographer. It’s really limitless the number of contributors that can then be, then share in the value that was generated by the work. And in this a use case we thought, what if Sarah, who stimulated the sale by Jack, got a reward for having influenced the purchase? So this is, these are the kinds of things that the three A’s would generate.
Attribution, the work circulates and we know who the author and other rights holders are. Authentication. Jack is now able to view the work after having purchased it or is able based on his profile as a connected fan to Sarah to view x percentage of the work and automation. Smart contracts connected to the work automatically executes royalty distribution based on predefined rules, three A’s in action. So we said, “Okay, can we build it?” We reached out to a few young men here in Toronto, we’re lucky in Toronto because there’s a lot of people that are active in the blockchain space. And we said, “Can we get to the proof of concept? Let’s just give it a try.” Would it be hard? Is this possible? And they said, yeah, it was possible, we could do it. And we did. It took just a few months, a couple of months and we were able to build out this proof of concept and to be clear, the kind of the web interface into this fan to fan world was not pretty. Like we didn’t spend any time there at all or any money on that at all. It was really about the mechanics behind the scenes to see whether they would work and they worked and it was super, super exciting to go through that exercise of thinking of this idea and then making the mechanics work and through that exercise, you know, it’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to actually experience that. Through that exercise, it gave us kind of like this window to peer into the future and now we’ve got it. We got why people were so excited about how blockchain technology, we’re going to transform digital interaction now.
It felt real, the disruption that people are talking about felt real to us and it’s also in a very weird way, felt imminent. Now what surprised us was that instead of getting super excited or only getting super excited, we also got super concerned. I started out by saying Access Copyright was created to ensure that creator gets paid for the work. That’s what’s in our DNA. We exist to make sure that creators get paid so that they can continue creating great content and that we worked through the workflow of this service. We kept asking ourselves, “But who is going to validate and make sure that the person that is putting the work into this new blockchain ecosystem or in the blockchain transaction is in fact the rightful owner and that the value that is now flowing through these, through these new relationship, through these new digital interactions is going to the right people? Who is going to validate and make sure that that happens? We started looking around other use cases, proofs of concepts and minimum viable products that were being tested out that involve contents and we would ask that question of all of those use cases, how are they making sure that the attribution is accurate, that the value exchange that is now happening without an intermediary is ending up in the right pockets and the answer we got more often than not was that we are, the services are relying on what we ended up calling blind faith or misplaced trust.
When someone uploads the work into a service, a digital service, they are asked to check the box that they do in fact own the copyright and then off it goes, no other verification is done. For anybody that’s worked in this space, and if we’re all creators, you all know very well that if the rights information used in the digital service is not reliable everything that happened after that simply cannot be trusted and blind faith does not work all the time. In fact, it failed far too often.
So the promise that we have been told as we research blockchain that two and a half, three years ago, and this is a quote from Don Tapscott, also a Canadian, “We believe that the economy works best when it works for everyone. And this new platform, blockchain is an engine of inclusion.” And often when people make reference to these statements, the engine of inclusion is to kind to bring back those that are in the periphery, in our world those are the creators, so that things center around the creators, the creators are now included in the transaction instead of moved towards the periphery. But our proof of concept showed us the dark side of blockchain and we were concerned that from piracy on steroids, that we’re actually gonna see 10 x the problem. We were concerned that the next era of digital interaction might in fact cement the existing challenges caused by the Internet, rapid piracy and monetization of content by someone other than the lawful owner. Remember is that when something is on a blockchain, it’s hard to take it back.
That some information on the blockchain while transparent, some of it is anonymous. Or fetal anonymous. In that context there are a lot of bad actors that can take advantage of this new technology. Consider also that when you are dealing with the Internet, the incentive for bad actors was about getting more eyeballs to the website, being able to generate revenues through a share of ad dollars.
In a blockchain world we’re seeing more direct value exchange, value exchange that is akin to dollars passing hands and you could see in that context the incentive for bad actors and so we started fearing that the game of whack a mole may in fact be on steroids and the game of whack a mole and you know what it is, your pirated book shows up on one website. You do a notice and take down, you finally get it off after endless efforts and then it pops up on another website. And it’s just this endless game of trying to take things down and we may in fact be wishing for the good old days of Napster and Bittorrent. So this is when we realized that the key pain point and key problem to solve is the attribution problem.
It’s absolutely vital that we understand what’s coming if we are to have an influence and have a say on how the new era of digital interactions develop in the coming years, we’re going to architect our future and ensure that we optimize the opportunities for creators, publishers, users that we’ve strengthened instead of weakened IP laws, that there is a fair and equitable management of data and information, that we be part of the development of this new technology. And we have to start by solving the attribution problem, but making sure that this is part of the technology stack of the new digital interaction. And we defined attribution as the ability to connect a creative work to its lawful creator and rightful owner in a reliable and authoritative manner.
Why is attribution important? This is probably, the next few slides are probably unnecessary but fun. So I’ll go to them anyways. They are unnecessary for this audience because I think you understand it at its core of why attribution is important. So if you were to look up on the Internet, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” You will see it attributed to many people, but mostly you will see it attributed to Gandhi. But really the most likely attribution is to George Perry Graham, who is a Canadian politician, and I believe was recorded as having said it back in 1915 or thereabouts.
This is another example of a quote which is often misattributed.” A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” It’s most often attributed to Mark Twain, but more likely it’s Jonathan West that came up with this, as just, you know, based on when these various people lived and when there is a recorded transcript of them having said that, most likely likely to be Jonathan Swift.
But the point is that we shouldn’t have to question who actually said what, who created what. That should really be a problem of the past given the promises of these new technologies is we must do away with misplaced trust and it is incumbent on us to use blockchain to finally do away with this and to do that, we need to ensure that there’s a kind of an attribution layer that is between the content creators and providers and the digital services that use the content. There would be an attribution ledger as part of this attribution layer. There would need to be a well thought through and inclusive governance structure and they will also need to be a well thought through dispute resolution as part of this attribution layer. The attribution ledger will be blockchain powered. So it’ll be a shared ledger. Some of the information about a work will be open, public and transparent. It will create and establish a clear connection between the rights holders and their work so that as the work circulate in digital services, there was always a link back to the rights holder. And by having that it will allow the creation of new services and the use of verified rights information by digital service providers.
And over time what we believe we will see is the attribution ledger enabling a seamless flow between content creation and consumption. So the life cycle of content creation, publication and consumption, will at all of its phases be connected to the ledger or connected back to the creators. Reliable and authoritative attribution will allow better rights protection. So as I’ve mentioned content on the blockchain is timestamped. It’s stored with a unique ID along with ownership details and access rights. It will allow royalty distribution. So we’ll enable revenue channels through self executing smart contracts that automate licensing and royalties distribution, transparently and in near real time we will see new user interactions. We’ll see a lot more direct creator to consumer interactions, which will alter the value exchange as compared to what we see today. And it will provide trusted content. They will provide consumers assets of content, which has been reliably and authoritatively attributed.
So this initiative is a purpose driven initiative. It is to be creator centric. It will put the creator at the center of the emerging digital ecosystem. They will be open. So an open ledger, open data, will develop a public auditable ledger that’s curates and maintains ownership claims. And it will provide an identity system from content and this identity system will be the underlying technology infrastructure used by content transacting services.
We believe that we’re at the precipice of something new, promising and potentially revolutionary for creator’s rights holders and audiences. And we have created a new organization, Prescient, in order to take our work to the next level. We created Prescient last summer. It’s a separate organization, wholly owned by us at Access Copyrights and Prescient will partner with creator, publisher or tech organization domestically and internationally to explore the future rights management and content monetization.
Prescient exists, as does Access Copyright to ensure creators and publishers are fairly paid for the use of their works and users have access to trusted content. We believe that the exchange of value generated by content should be transparent. And we are using exponential technologies like blockchain and machine learning to build dynamic ecosystem that reimagines content interaction. And we’ve started building out the services to demonstrate the value of the attribution ledger and to see its adoption. We’re collaborating with other creators associations on innovative use cases for the ledger. The first one that we’re building out is in fact this proof of concept, the influencer proof of concept. I spoke about a few minutes ago, a service and allows creators and rights holders to activate their fan base that create p to p interactions that ensure that the value generated returns to the creators and that rewards the fan at the same time.
So the influencer product, which we’ll probably get renamed at one point, that this fan to fan interaction product will allow creators to launch campaigns that activate their fans and leverage their fans recommendations to stimulate sales, and engage with their fans. You will also include real time distribution of funds at the point of sale.
The benefit of the fan-based service is that it enables and new distribution, discoverability and promotional channel. They’ll be distribution of royalties automatically in near real time. We’ll provide creators a line of sight into how their work is transacted upon and how their fan, if you’d like, span out. And eventually as the service develops, we have plans to leverage game theory principles to incentivize certain behaviors on the platform.
And we want to work with you. We want to have you involved as we build this at this service out and build the attributions ledger out. If you are interested, please do reach out to us. The email address is email@example.com. We are putting together a virtual working group of independent authors so we can fully understand your unique needs and perspective and we would love to have you be a part of the future of rights management and content monetization. And with that, I’d like to thank you again for your attention. I do encourage you again to email us at the firstname.lastname@example.org or you could email me personally email@example.com or SAP and Merrick, who is leading our innovation efforts. I’ve asked firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for your attention and we look forward to hearing from you.
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