Freedom of Expression
at the National Endowment for the Arts
An interdisciplinary education project partially
funded by the American Bar Association, Commission on College
and University Legal Studies through the ABA Fund for Justice
Multimedia artist David Wojnarowicz brings this action to enjoin the publication of a pamphlet by defendants American Family Association ("AFA") and Donald E. Wildmon, Executive Director of AFA, and for damages based upon claims of copyright infringement, defamation, and violations of the Lanham Act and the New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act. . .
. . . . Plaintiff also seeks a permanent injunction to halt defendants' distribution of the allegedly violative material, a mandatory injunction requiring defendants to correct their alleged misrepresentations and an award of money damages. . . . [T]he Court concludes that plaintiff is entitled to judgment for defendants' violation of New York's Artists' Authorship rights Act, but plaintiff's claims for copyright infringement, violation of the Lanham Act and defamation must be dismissed. . . .
Defendant AFA, formerly known as the National Federation For Decency, was founded in 1977 as a not-for-profit corporation by Donald E. Wildmon. Incorporated under the laws of the state of Mississippi, and headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi, the AFA has over 60,000 members and approximately 500 local chapters nationwide, including a number in the state of New York. It is chartered for the declared purposes; inter alia, of promoting decency in the American society and advancing the Judeo-Christian ethic in America. Defendant Donald E. Wildmon, Executive Director of the AFA, is a citizen of the United States, resident in Tupelo, Mississippi. Since May 1989, the AFA has been actively campaigning against what it characterizes as the subsidization of "offensive" and "blasphemous" art by the national endowment for the Arts (the "NEA"). Through contributions, it raised $5.2 million dollars in 1989.
Plaintiff, a citizen of the United States, residing in New York, New York, is a multi-media artist, whose work includes paintings, photographs, collages, sculptures, installations, video tapes, films, essays and public performances. A professional artist, plaintiff earns his living by selling his art works, many of which are assertedly directed at bringing attention to the devastation wrought upon the homosexual community by the AIDS epidemic. Plaintiff attempts through his work to expose what he views as the failure of the United States government and public to confront the AIDS epidemic in any meaningful way. To this end, plaintiff's art at times incorporates sexually explicit images for the avowed purpose of shaping community attitudes towards sexuality. As a result, his works have been the subject of controversy and public debate concerning government funding of non-traditional art.
Plaintiff's art works frequently employ groupings of images which are assertedly intended to convey composite messages. The works have received a measure of critical acclaim and have been featured in a number of museum and gallery exhibitions. Plaintiff earned approximately $15,000 from the sale of his art works in 1988, approximately $34,000 in 1989 and $17,000 to date this year.
From January 23, 1990 through March 4, 1990, the University Galleries at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, presented a comprehensive exhibition of plaintiff's work, entitled "tongues of flame" (the "exhibit"), and published a 128-page catalog (the "catalog") which contained reproductions of over sixty of plaintiff's works, as well as essays by plaintiff and others. The NEA awarded the University Galleries $15,000 to help pay for the exhibit and the catalog.
Plaintiff is the owner of the copyrights to all of the works displayed in the exhibit and of all of the reproductions of his work that appear in the catalog. . . .
On or about April 12, 1990, the AFA and Wildmon published and distributed throughout the United States, including the Southern District of new York, the AFA pamphlet (the "pamphlet") in an effort to stop public funding by the NEA of art works such as plaintiff's. The pamphlet was mailed to 523 members of Congress, 3,230 Christian leaders, 947 Christian radio stations and 1,578 newspapers, at least twenty-eight of which were located in this district. Without plaintiff's authorization, Wildmon photographically copied fourteen fragments of plaintiff's works which he believed most offensive to the public and reproduced these fragments in the AFA pamphlet. These fourteen images, with three exceptions, explicitly depict sexual acts. The other three images portray Christ with a hypodermic needle inserted in his arm, and two ambiguous scenes which plaintiff represents as respectively depicting an African purification ritual and two men dancing together.
Wildmon wrote the text of the pamphlet, which is entitled "Your Tax Dollar Helped Pay For These 'Works of art.'" It states in the introductory sentence that "the photographs appearing on this sheet were part of the David Wajnarowicz [sic] 'Tongues of Flame' exhibit catalog." The envelope in which the AFA pamphlet was mailed states that the "[p]hotos enclosed in this envelope were taken from the catalog of the 'Tongues of Flame' exhibit" and is marked "Caution-Contains Extremely Offensive Material."
. . .
New York's Artists' Authorship Rights Act
New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act, N.Y. Cultural Affairs Law Section 14.03 . . . provides, in relevant part, that:
. . . Defendants . . . argue that the distribution of a photocopy of cropped images extracted from plaintiff's work is not a violation of the statute because it did not alter, deface, mutilate or modify plaintiff's original work. This court does not agree. A literal reading of section 14.03(a) of the Authorship rights Act clearly demonstrates that the statute guards against alterations of reproductions as well as of the original works. . . , [D]eliberate alterations(such as selective cropping), as distinguished from those that ordinarily result from the reproduction process (such as reduction in overall size or loss of detail), would constitute violations. . . .
. . . [B]ecause the intent of the bill was to protect not only the integrity of the artwork, but the reputation of the artist, the spirit of the statute is best served by prohibiting the attribution to an artist of a published or publicly displayed altered reproduction of his original artwork. From a photographic reproduction, it cannot be seen whether the alteration was effected on the original or the copy, and both may cause the same harm to the artist's reputation when the altered version is published with attribution to him. In fact, the mass mailing of an altered photographic reproduction is likely to reach a far greater audience and cause greater harm to the artist than the display of an altered original, which may reach only a limited audience. . . .
Second, this Court rejects defendants' claim that the reproduction and publication of minor, unrepresentative segments of larger works, printed wholly without context, does not constitute an alteration, defacement, mutilation or modification of plaintiff's artworks. By excising and reproducing only small portions of plaintiff's work, defendants have largely reduced plaintiff's multi-imaged works of art to solely sexual images devoid of any political and artistic context. Extracting fragmentary images from complex, multi-imaged collages clearly alters and modifies such work.
Defendants also content that their reproductions are not within the scope of the Act because the pamphlet was not publicly displayed or published. The court finds this contention disingenuous. . . . By mailing over 200 pamphlets into the state of New York, thereby transferring ownership, to, among others, entities which it obviously intended to disseminate the pamphlet further, defendants have "published" their reproductions within the meaning of the Copyright Act's definition. . . .[D]efendants' communication was not private merely because the pamphlet was mailed to selected individuals at specific locations rather than being exhibited in a museum. Defendants' communication is a public message urging opposition to NEA funding of such art. Because they sought to gain support for their cause through such a massive mailing, they can not now claim that there was no publication or public display.
Defendants next claim that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the alteration, modification, defacement or mutilation has caused or is reasonably likely to result in damage to his reputation. Defendants urge that plaintiff's reputation has not been diminished in the eyes of his peers or gallery directors, dealers and potential buyers who determine his livelihood but, to the contrary, the increased exposure and publicity has enhanced his reputation. However, the trial testimony of Philip Yenawine, an expert on contemporary art, employed by the modern Museum of Art in New York, established that there is a reasonable likelihood that defendants' actions have jeopardized the monetary value of plaintiff's works and impaired plaintiff's professional and personal reputation.
Yenawine testified that because the details in the pamphlet imply that plaintiff's work consists primarily of explicit images of homosexual sex activity, plaintiff's name will be "anathema" to museums. Museums unfamiliar with plaintiff's work, believing the pamphlet to be representative of his work, may fail to review his work, even though many of plaintiff's art works do not contain sexual images. Even museums familiar with plaintiff's work may be reluctant to show his work due to his perceived association with pornography.
Yenawine stated that this self-censorship will have an adverse impact on the value of plaintiff's work; individual will be less likely to purchase plaintiff's art without the pedigree of museum shows and accompanying reviews. Similarly, defendants' misrepresentation of plaintiff's work may deter persons from attending his shows, which may, in turn, reduce the incentive for galleries and museums to include plaintiff's work in future shows. Additionally, the public may associate plaintiff with only the sexually explicit images which were taken out of his intended political and artistic context, resulting in a reasonable likelihood of harm to his reputation and to the market for his work. Yenawine further testified that although corporations would not have been likely to purchase those works of plaintiff's which contain sexual images, "a great number of [plaintiff's] images . . . have no sexual representations whatsoever and deal with all sorts of other kinds of images. . . ."
When comparing the situation of plaintiff with that of either Robert Mapplethorpe or Andre Serrano, whose works have risen in value despite similar controversies, Yenawine testified that the works of Mapplethorpe and Serrano were presented in their entirety so that viewers could judge for themselves the merit of the works, unlike the works of plaintiff which were presented in fragments so that readers of the pamphlet could not fairly judge his works. Yenawine also noted that the reputations of both Mapplethorpe and Serrano were better able to withstand the outcry concerning their work because the controversies arose when, unlike plaintiff, they were well-established as artists and supported by investors who had substantial interest in protecting the value of their investments.
Defendants next assert that where the speech involves matters of public concern allegedly injuring the reputation of a public figure, actual malice must be proven to defeat First Amendment protection. While agreeing with the quotations submitted by defendants eloquently extolling the virtues of the First Amendment, this court cannot agree that the alteration, defacement, mutilation or modification of artwork is protected speech, entitling defendants to immunity where they acted without actual malice. Clearly, the pamphlet contained protectable speech, namely, the protest against the subsidy of "obscene" art, which is entitled to the utmost First Amendment protection as the "unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes deserved by the people." . . . the public display of an altered artwork, falsely attributed to the original artist, however, is not the type of speech or activity that demands protection, because such deception serves no socially useful purpose. The New York Statute does not impeded truthful speech, but rather presents false attribution, requiring only accurate labeling to permit dissemination of the desired message. Such labeling in no way diminishes the force of the message. Defendants remain free to criticize and condemn plaintiff's work if they so choose. They may present incomplete reproductions labeled as such or, alternatively, without attribution of such images to plaintiff. However, they may not present as complete works by plaintiff, selectively cropped versions of his originals.
Defendants also charge that the statute is unconstitutional (1) as applied, (2) on its face and (3) under the New York State Constitution. For the following reasons, the Court cannot agree. As stated above, the Artists' Authorship rights Act does not address a category of speech which is presumptively protected under the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not protect the public display of altered artwork, falsely attributed to the original artist. The public display of an altered reproduction for the purpose of expressing a grievance against the government or simply for the purpose of denouncing a social attitude in which there is no express or reasonably implied attribution to the original artist is altogether unlike the public attribution of an altered reproduction of a work of art to its original artist. While the former is protect speech, the latter is not. Accordingly, the first Amendment does not foreclose application of this statute to defendants' pamphlet. Similarly, narrowly tailored injunctive relief preventing only the false attribution to plaintiff of altered reproductions of his work does not constitute an unlawful prior restraint of protected speech.
As to defendants' position that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, the court again cannot agree. As explained above, the statute encompasses altered reproductions as well as altered originals and altered limited edition multiples. The statute is not impermissibly vague merely because it requires a determination as to whether damage to an artist's reputation is reasonably likely to result from an alteration and attribution. . . . Because the statute presently before the Court states that damage to the artist's reputation must be "reasonably likely" to result, the test is clearly whether a reasonable person would conclude that damage to the artist's reputation is likely. . . .
Nor is the statute overly broad. As discussed above, because the statute proscribes only the false attribution to an artist of an altered original, limited edition or reproduction of his work, it does not sweep within its ban speech which is protected by the first Amendment. Nor does it prohibit conduct specifically protected by federal copyright laws. . . . By requiring that a plaintiff prove a public showing of an altered version of his work, attributed to him with a resulting reasonable likelihood of harm to his reputation, the Artists' Authorship Rights Act is sufficiently narrow to meet its aim of protecting artists' reputations as well as the integrity of the artwork for the benefit of both artists and the viewing public.
By attributing the modified images contained in the pamphlet to plaintiff as his works of art, defendants have created a likelihood of damage to his reputation as a serious artist and to his earning potential, and have thereby violated New York's Artists' Authorship Rights Act.
Violation of the Lanham Act
. . . Every instance of the Lanham Act's far-reaching application has been to practices commercial in nature, involving imitation, misrepresentation, or misappropriation in connection with the same of goods or services by the defendant. . . . Because the pamphlet was not employed in the "advertising or promotion" of goods or services, plaintiff has failed to satisfy a prerequisite to invocation of the Lanham Act.
To prevail in a copyright infringement action, the copyright owner must show (1) ownership of the copyright at issue, and (2) a violation of one of the exclusive rights accorded the copyright owner. . . . Plaintiff is the owner of the copyright in the artworks at issue, each of which was registered in plaintiff's name in the U.S. Copyright Office on May 11, 1990. . . .
By directly copying portions of several of plaintiff's copyrighted artworks, defendants have violated plaintiff's exclusive right "to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies." 17 U.S.C. 106(1) By editing or cropping plaintiff's artworks and presenting the unauthorized modified version, defendants have additionally violated the plaintiff's exclusive right to prepare derivative works. 17 U.S.C. 106(2)
Defendants raise the affirmative defense that their use of the images in the AFA pamphlet for the clear purpose of criticism and comment on an issue of public concern and for petitioning the government for redress of grievances is protected by the doctrine of "fair use" under 17 U.S.C. 107. Defendants claim that having voluntarily accepted public funding by the NEA to support publication of his artwork, plaintiff may not present the AFA or Wildmon from criticizing that funding.
Described as "the most troublesome in the whole law of copyright," . . . the issue of fair use requires an intricate balancing of complex factors. . . . For the following reasons, the Court concludes that defendants' use of plaintiff's copyright works under the present circumstances is protected.
Purpose and Character of Use
Criticism and comment are uses expressly recognized by the fair use provision of the Copyright Act and the "most universally recognized in connection with" the defense of fair use. . . .No one disputes that this was defendants' dominant purpose. In addressing the controversial issue of federal funding of contemporary art, the pamphlet is entitled to great protection because the appropriateness of such funding must remain open to vigorous challenge and those who accept federal funds must also accept the right of others to protest such expenditures.
. . . Plaintiff claims that it was defendants' misleading distortion of his work in order to make it appear more "offensive" than a true and accurate reproduction renders their criticism outside the scope of the doctrine's protection. While the Second Circuit court has considered "whether the paraphrasing and copying was done in good faith or with evasive motive." . . . and noted that inaccuracies may render an "otherwise 'fair abridgement . . . [to be] prejudicial, by mistaking and curtailing the sense of the author,'" . . . the threshold of this exception is high. . . .[P]laintiff has not established defendants' intent to distort plaintiff's work and to represent the fragments as complete composite works of art with sufficient clarity to surmount that threshold. While the pamphlet published by defendants misrepresents the original work, it is clear that reasonable persons could find the distortion to be the product of mere carelessness.
Plaintiff argues that the use of the pamphlet as part of a fund-raising effort creates a presumption against the fairness of the use . . . .It is true that even a minimal level of commercial incentive weighs against a finding of fair use, but whether it controls the final determination depends on the totality of the circumstances. While the publication of the pamphlet involved some economic motivation, . . . this Court believes that here defendants' dominant objective was to oppose federal funding of "pornography," and that this objective far outweighed the secondary fund-raising purpose. Accordingly, this factor strongly favors defendants.
Nature of the Copyrighted Work
All the words from which defendants copies had been published in the catalogue. Whether or not a work is published is critical to its nature under this factors because, as the Supreme Court has stated and the Second Circuit Court has reiterated, "even substantial quotations might qualify as fair use in a review of a published work." . . .
Next considered under factor two is whether the copyrighted work is "information" or "creative." . . . When informational works are involved, as opposed to creative ones, the scope of fair use is greater. . . . Despite defendants' assertion and plaintiff's admission that plaintiff's works seek to convey political information, the Court finds that the works are primarily creative expressions; they are no less creative because they espouse a political message. Therefore, the scope of fair use is diminished and, even though the works were published, this factor slightly favors plaintiff.
Volume of the Taking
Analysis of the third factor in the fair use calculus includes consideration of both the amount and the substantiality of the copying. . . .It is not disputed that only small images were excised from plaintiff's works and copied, with the exception of one image which represented an entire photograph from a related series of four. Plaintiff claims, nonetheless, that the quality of the taking was great because, although the pamphlet did not take the heart of his work, it misrepresented his work in a way not possible in literary work. This court disagrees. . . . where a plaintiff effectively concedes that it would have been fair use to have copied one of his works in its entirety, he can scarcely base a claim of infringement on the copying of fragments. This factor therefore weighs in favor of defendants.
. . . Plaintiff alleges that the harm to his reputation and works has and will continue to diminish the market for and value of his works. Defendants argue that, to the contrary, the value of plaintiff's works has been enhanced by the notoriety surrounding this controversy.
A plaintiff in a copyright action need not show actual harm; it is enough that he demonstrate a likelihood of future harm caused by the infringement. . . . While the current controversy may have sparked interest in plaintiff's art works, that interest is likely to last only as long as the controversy and is more likely to attract sensation seekers than purchasers. Plaintiff's "fifteen minutes of fame" may not translate into future commercial success.
Defendants more appropriately contend that the fair use doctrine allows publications which criticize and comment to damage the market value of copyrighted work. Under the doctrine, a copyright violation does not occur where even a ruinous review decreases demand for a copyrighted work. . . . Because excerpting a work for criticism and comment does not produce a work in competition with the copyrighted work, the infringing material does not supplant the original work and does not implicate the concerns of the Copyright Act. . . . Any decrease in sales and popularity due to defendants' criticism and comment is therefore not actionable, especially where, as here, plaintiff's works were published and the infringing pamphlet "will not tap any sources of economic profit that would otherwise go to the authorized [works].". . . This factor therefore strongly favors defendants.
. . . [A]dditional factors may influence the fair use balance. Defendants first claim that by having accepted tax dollars to support the display of his artwork, plaintiff should be estopped from quieting those taxpayers who seek publicly to criticize such funding. While such claims of estoppel and unclean hands cannot be sustained, it is highly significant to the scope of fair use that plaintiff accepted public funds to support his artwork. This fact broadens the scope of the fair use exemption because of the strong public interest, protected by the first Amendment, in free criticism of the expenditure of federal funds.
Defendants next contend that because the pamphlet addresses an issue of public concern, it rests "on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment Values.". . . Defendants similarly argue that the pamphlet falls within the scope of the First Amendment's right to petition government for redress of grievances, a right "among the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights." . . . The First Amendment, however, provides no privilege against the copyright laws beyond that afforded by the fair use defense. . . .nonetheless, . . . where vital First Amendment concerns are implicated, as here, that breadth expands and accords greater protection to what might otherwise constitute an infringement. Accordingly, after balancing all the relevant factors, this Court rules that defendants' use is a fair one.
Plaintiff claims that in excerpting fragments from plaintiff's original composite art works, defendants removed all the artistic and political content of the works and reduced them to banal sexual images. Plaintiff claims that by attributing the excerpted fragments to plaintiff, defendants defamed his work and damages his reputation.
To state a claim for libel, plaintiff must demonstrate first that defendants' communication has a defamatory meaning. Because plaintiff concedes that he is a limited purpose public figure, he must also show that defendants acted with "actual malice," that is, "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." . . . While the former requirement is satisfied here, the latter is not, defeating plaintiff's defamation claim.
. . . It is clear that defendants' message was serious in nature: plaintiff's works of art were unworthy of NEA funding. . . . By presenting what are, standing alone, essentially pornographic images as plaintiff's works of art, without noting that the images are merely details from larger composite works, the pamphlet is libelous per se.
"Actual malice" does not require a showing that defendants harbored ill will toward the plaintiff, but rather that defendants had "'a high degree of awareness of [the communication's] probable falsity,' or 'in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of [their publication.'". . .
Whether Wildmon acted with such reckless disregard of the truth when reproducing only the portions and identifying them as plaintiff's "works of art," while a difficult question, has been illuminated by his testimony at trial. Wildmon admitted that in selecting the details to be reproduced, he chose those fragments which were most "offensive," that is, apt to arouse the greatest outrage over NEA funding. However, the defamation alleged herein is not over the presentation of the images but the depiction of these images as plaintiff's "works of art."
The Court finds that, in writing the text accompanying the reproductions, Wildmon did not consider that his words could be construed as a representation that the fragments were complete works of art by plaintiff, but merely used the quoted phrase in a sarcastic sense, to indicate that the author did not consider the works deserving of the term "art." And his statements that "the photographs appearing on this sheet were part of the David Wajnarowicz [sic] 'Tongues of flame' exhibit catalog," and that the "[p]hotos enclosed in this envelope were taken from the catalog of the 'tongues of Flame' exhibit . . . (emphasis added)," are literally accurate because the photographs were excerpted from the exhibit catalog, even though these statements failed to make clear that those photographs depicted only portions of composite works. Indeed, Wildmon continues to deny that his statements were inaccurate.
While the deliberate omission of qualifying information may demonstrate actual malice, . . .the Court is unconvinced that Wildmon knowingly omitted qualifying language that would have rendered his descriptions less misleading. Although Wildmon's statements had the potential to mislead reasonable readers, his actions do not exhibit "'a high degree of awareness of [the communication's]probable falsity,' or . . . [that he] 'in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication.'" . . . the court is unpersuaded by plaintiff's contention that other evidence, including Wildmon's sophistication and repetition of the misstatements after being informed of them by the Chairman of the NEA and this lawsuit, belies his lack of intent. Additionally, Wildmon's knowledge and prior use of the Human Events editorial which referred to the image reproduced therein as a "portion" of a collage does not indicate his conscious decision to substitute such language with more misleading references. As to plaintiff's assertion that the pamphlet implies, contrary to fact, that the exhibit was funded by the NEA after the funding restriction became effective and after John Frohnmayer became the Chairman of the NEA, Wildmon testified that "in [his] mind, if this exhibit took place in March and the law was passed in [the preceding] November . . . then it's reasonable to assume that this exhibit contained the kind of material which the law supposedly was to prohibit." The Court believes that Wildmon's state of mind was not sufficiently reckless to satisfy the actual malice requirement for finding defamation against a public figure. Because plaintiff has not proved actual malice with convincing clarity, plaintiff's defamation claim is dismissed.
New York's Artists' Authorship Rights Act specifically provides for equitable relief. . . Because plaintiff has demonstrated success on his claim for relief, he is entitled to injunctive relief upon a showing of irreparable injury.
. . . Defendants' distribution of a pamphlet, suggesting that plaintiff's work consists of sexually explicit images, has irreparably harmed plaintiff's professional and personal reputation and warrants injunctive relief. Accordingly, defendants and all those in privity with them are hereby enjoined and restrained from further publication or distribution of the pamphlet in controversy. As stated in the Court's opinion and order dated June 28, 1990:
This injunction shall not prohibit publication or distribution of other pamphlets or materials incorporating the photographic images contained in the pamphlet, or portions thereof, for the purpose of directly or indirectly influencing the national Endowment for the Arts or the United States Congress or other United States government officials to cease the direct or indirect subsidy or support of the creation, exhibition or publication of such art with federal funds, provided that, such pamphlets or materials do not suggest to reasonable readers that a fragment of one of plaintiff's art works constitutes the complete work.
Plaintiff also seeks an order requiring defendants to undertake a corrective mailing and to publish a corrective advertisement in a major daily newspaper. . . . [T]he court believes it just to require defendants to distribute a corrective communication to all those to whom they sent the original pamphlet. To minimize mailing costs, this corrective communication, to be mailed within ninety days from the date of this opinion and order, may be joined with any other distribution by the defendants. The corrective communication should be submitted to the Court for approval after comment by all parties.
Under new York's Artists' authorship rights Act, an artist is also entitled to legal relief, i.e., damages, for a violation of the Act. . . . Even though plaintiff has established that defendants' actions were reasonably likely to result in damage to his reputation, he has proven no actual damages. So far as the record shows, not one gallery or museum currently scheduled to exhibit plaintiff's work, has cancelled; nor has one planned sale been cancelled. Plaintiff presented no evidence that he has been harmed in any other specific, quantifiable way. Accordingly, the Court hereby awards plaintiff nominal damages in the amount of $1.00.
For the reasons discussed above, plaintiff is entitled to judgment for defendants' violation of New York's Artists' Authorship Rights Act. Plaintiff's claims for copyright infringement, violation of the Lanham Act and defamation are dismissed. SO ORDERED.
[Notes omitted from the report of the opinion.]
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