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Panasonic Begins To Lock Out 3d-Party Camera Batteries 450

Posted by timothy
from the humbly-meeting-customer-demands dept.
OhMyBattery writes "The latest firmware updated for Panasonic digital cameras contains one single improvement: it locks out the ability to use 'non-genuine Panasonic' batteries. It does so for safety reasons, it says. It seems to indicate that this is going to be the norm for all new Panasonic digital cameras. From the release: 'Panasonic Digital Still Cameras now include a technology that can identify a genuine Panasonic battery. For the protection of our customers Panasonic developed this technology after it was discovered that some aftermarket 3rd party batteries do not meet the rigid safety standards Panasonic uses.' The firmware warning is quite clear as to what it does: 'After this firmware update your Panasonic Digital Camera cannot be operated by 3rd party batteries (non genuine Panasonic batteries).'"
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Panasonic Begins To Lock Out 3d-Party Camera Batteries

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  • Nice. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:19PM (#28456943)

    Everyone wants to make a buck stifling competition and innovation these days.

    • This will cause the Don't Buy Panasonic [google.com] movement to be even stronger.

      My completely uninformed guess about how this happened. Panasonic executives: "How can we sink the company?" Their answer: "Get a story about us doing something abusive on Slashdot. Slashdot readers understand technology and will make sure everyone knows."
      • by guyfawkes-11-5 (1583613) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:46PM (#28457375) Homepage
        What a coincidence! Today my wallet decided to lock out Panasonic products. Oh well. Canon is better anyway.
        • by boombaard (1001577) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @05:11PM (#28458769) Journal
          No, canon has a much bigger marketing department (which is why you see 4000 canon products in every store but almost no Pana products)
          In the digital compact market Panasonic is holding its own fairly well. Although the newest models indeed have these nonsensical battery firmware updates, the FZ28 can go head to head easily with the canon SX10.. And if you don't upgrade firmware, the LX3 with the 1.1 FW is one of the best cameras in its segment. Similarly for the tz7.
          Yes, canon has the brand hame, but if you have a look at DPReview [dpreview.com], you can compare reviews to see how the cameras/brands compare.
          • by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:46PM (#28460769)

            In the digital compact market Panasonic is holding its own fairly well. Although the newest models indeed have these nonsensical battery firmware updates, the FZ28 can go head to head easily with the canon SX10.. And if you don't upgrade firmware, the LX3 with the 1.1 FW is one of the best cameras in its segment. Similarly for the tz7.

            Panasonic began doing this battery lockout awhile back, I remember seeing their camcorders reject third party batteries about a year or 2 back. Canon makes excellent cameras, doesn't attempt to shoot you in the leg with a battery lock-in, and their RAW format plays well with many software options (free and otherwise). If I was looking to buy a camera right now, you can bet it wouldn't be a Panasonic, regardless of how close it compares to a Canon.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by couchslug (175151)

          "What a coincidence! Today my wallet decided to lock out Panasonic products. Oh well. Canon is better anyway."

          People ask those with experience what to buy and why. Some well-placed scorn such as "good luck buying batteries for that piece of shit" can put off potential customers.

          If corps can stick it to us, we can stick it to them with equal or greater gusto. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jackharrer (972403)

      Seconded. My 3rd party battery for FZ18 (brilliant camera btw!) is 1000mAh whereas original one is 710mAh. I much more prefer the non original one, obviously.

      • Re:Nice. (Score:4, Informative)

        by spikestabber (644578) <spikeNO@SPAMspykes.net> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @04:20PM (#28457895) Homepage
        Panasonic has already been doing this with their HDC-HS100 HD camcorders, I tried a 3rd party battery, it would power up with an error message about the battery then shut down.
    • Re:Nice. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @05:01PM (#28458637)

      Everyone wants to make a buck stifling competition and innovation these days.

      Well, I wouldn't buy a Panasonic to start with, but I don't think that's their primary motive.

      I worked for some time as a camera dealer/repair shop. We would often see people come in with a damaged camera, pop out the 3rd-party battery and replace it with the Genuine one, and try to claim the Warranty.
      This costs the camera makers a lot of money repairing equipment that they really shouldn't have to, since they can't tell what kind of battery was in the device.

      Personally, I think a better move would be for the firmware to simply set some type of non-resettable internal flag showing that a non-approved battery was loaded, and display some type of alert option. If such a device was returned for service/refund/exchange, you could void the warranty if the flag was set.

      No need to prevent the use of such batteries outright. But I can sort of sympathize with them, there are some pretty cheap batteries that are almost guaranteed to split/leak/explode. And if they can't put a stop to the warranty claims from such items, people will abuse it to no end. Simple formula- right before the warranty expires, load in a very cheap off-brand battery that you have intentionally over-stressed, and use it until it pops and ruins the camera. Voila, for the price of a battery + shipping you can have a brand new $1,000 camera.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stephanruby (542433)

        Simple formula- right before the warranty expires, load in a very cheap off-brand battery that you have intentionally over-stressed, and use it until it pops and ruins the camera. Voila, for the price of a battery + shipping you can have a brand new $1,000 camera.

        It doesn't sound like this new system will prevent this. Making a battery explode/leak is not a problem if you're really dealing with a malicious customer.

        If the batteries are really that problematic, then may be, they should just try to make thei

  • Too bad for them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:19PM (#28456949)
    There goes Panasonic off my list for an upcoming camera buy.
    • Yeah, that's just not good marketing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JCSoRocks (1142053)
      Ugh. I can't wait for the day when they start only accepting CameraBrandNameHere memory cards. It's easy enough to ignore Sony and find something that uses SD.... but if they try to turn the memory card market into the ink cartridge market we geeks will need to organize a riot.
    • Great News (Score:3, Interesting)

      by symes (835608)
      Now I can cross Panasonic off my TV short-list - thanks for making life a little easier Panasonic!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      "There goes Panasonic off my list for an upcoming camera buy."

      Yep. If I buy a car, I insist on the ability to use whatever brand of gasoline I want! If it's a bit more volatile than the "recommended" brand, that's a risk I take.
  • by macbeth66 (204889) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:22PM (#28456997)

    I guess it will not be a Panasonic. If it had issued a warning after putting hte battery in, then it would be OK. This just sounds like the same crap Lexmark pulled. I still actively recommend against their printers.

  • with this as long as their batteries are reasonably priced.

    If they go Lexmark, however....

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SecurityGuy (217807)

      No, it is a problem because they're stifling my ability to choose what battery to use and positioning themselves as monopolist. Simple economics will show you that the ideal price point for a monopolist is higher than a competitive market. I'd rather not be screwed for no good reason. The "problem" Panasonic is claiming to solve is not their problem. If I buy an allegedly unsafe battery, why is that their problem at all? I can accept a disclaimer of warranty for some 3rd party batteries IF they have re

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by multisync (218450)

        it is a problem because they're stifling my ability to choose what battery to use and positioning themselves as monopolist

        No they're not. They are saying "Some of these aftermarket batteries are not equipped with internal protective devices to guard against overcharging, internal heating and short circuit. If these aftermarket battery packs were used, it could lead to an accident causing damage to your camera or personal injury." So they created a firmware update that would check for the presence of a Panas

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wwfarch (1451799)
          All very true for CURRENT Panasonic cameras. The problem is that they are likely to include this firmware in future cameras with no ability to rollback to firmware without it.
        • by Znork (31774) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:30PM (#28460603)

          So, does this firmware protect against defective Panasonic brand batteries? You don't need to go further than a google for Panasonic battery recall to note that they ship defective batteries without short circuit and overheating protection with the best of them.

          See, otherwise the 'consumer safety' angle sounds like a really lame excuse for exactly the monopolist positioning the GP suggests.

    • by skuzzlebutt (177224) <jdb@@@jeremydbrooks...com> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:32PM (#28457163) Homepage

      Quick google shows knockoffs at under $20, and the Panasonic unit at $50 for the DMW-BCF10

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Every major manufacturer of printer cartridges has counter-measures to prevent remanufactured inkjet and laser cartridges. These are designed to prevent "3rd party" cartridges.

    Epson is probably the nastiest, An encrypted chip and a fuse that gets blown after a certain period is on their newer models.

    Regardless, if there is money to be made, someone (especially in China. They seem to be very good on circumventing consumable copy protection), will make an acceptable aftermarket part which appears to be authen

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sexconker (1179573)

      The same Chinese laborer in the same Chinese factory is making the same Chinese originals and Chinese knockoffs.

      THAT'S how they beat the protection.
      They're the one's fucking implementing it in the first place.

  • 2D For Life (Score:5, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:23PM (#28457029)

    I never understood the obsession with 3D Parties or their camera batteries.

    2D for life, bitches.

  • by debrain (29228) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:24PM (#28457047) Journal

    If Panasonic was concerned about 3rd party suppliers selling unsafe batteries, it could sell licenses with strict requirements or set up a certification program to test the safety of the batteries sold by these suppliers.

    Locking out competition to create an artificial tie-in between the camera and the battery is anti-competitive, in my opinion. There are ways to ensure the safety of customers without a tie-in that undermines market-based competition.

    Mind you, I only read the blurb- I don't know the details of what Panasonic is proposing. But the summary seems telling.

    • by Dunbal (464142)

      Why not just build the battery right into the camera. End of story.

      Battery problems? Take your camera to an authorized Panasonic repair shop...

      Either way, the market will decide on this. Panasonic isn't the only player in town.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dgatwood (11270)

        How to ensure that you won't sell a single camera ever again:

        1. Build the battery into the camera.
        2. There is no step 2!

        Have you ever known anyone who buys a camera who doesn't immediately turn around and buy a second battery? I've never owned a camera, camcorder, etc. without having at least two batteries for the thing. When your battery runs down on a camera, you want to be able to drop in a new one, not lose the ability to capture memories until you can go back to the hotel and charge up for three hours.

  • Antitrust? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:26PM (#28457063)

    Is the "Panasonic camera battery" market considered a market, in terms of antitrust law? If so, are they setting themselves up for antitrust action?

  • Standards? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joseph Vigneau (514) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:26PM (#28457075)

    "some aftermarket 3rd party batteries do not meet the rigid safety standards Panasonic uses."

    It would be interesting to see what standards they refer to. Is that a trade secret?

  • Grrrr. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis (1048476) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:28PM (#28457099)

    A better solution would of been "This firmware update identifies the use of 3rd party batteries and alerts the user to the risk of using them. It monitors the voltage output and shuts down the camera if it determines that the battery is insufficient or possibly dangerous. And invalidates the warranty too". This would of left open the choice to the user - after all there are a great many very good 3rd party batteries and they have saved my bacon in the past.

    By monitoring the voltage I mean the camera can detect an abnormally fast voltage drop against its usage that might mean a defective or damaged battery - naturally it cannot detect if the battery is about to get white hot and set fire to the camera, but hey the user was warned and the warranty invalidated. I would expect the manufacturer to check the damaged camera EEPROM and say "aha! according to our data log you used not panasonic batteries, thats no repair for you!".

    By removing the element of choice they raise the natural suspicion that this decision was taken on commercial grounds, not safety and risk a consumer backlash and dissatisfaction.

    • Re:Grrrr. (Score:5, Informative)

      by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:44PM (#28457341) Journal

      At least in the United States, a manufacturer is not legally allowed to void a warranty for the use of third-party products unless they can show that the third party product caused the damage involved in the warranty claim... not that it can cause damage, but that it did cause damage. So no, they cannot detect the battery and invalidate the warranty. Doing so would put them in violation of Magnuson-Moss.

  • by McGregorMortis (536146) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:30PM (#28457139)

    The justification they offer for this is not necessarily illegitimate.

    If the camera has a built-in charger, then there is a very real possibility of battery fires or explosions if a 3rd-party battery doesn't match the characteristics that the charger was designed for. If you don't believe that can happen, then I suggest you review all the stories of exploding laptop batteries. It can and does happen.

    On the other hand, if there is no built-in charger (my Canon cameras don't have built-in chargers), then they are definitely first-rate ass-pirates and players of the pink oboe.

    • I'll make the decision on whether I trust the battery manufacturer when I buy my battery thank very much. Can't even trust Sony now can we?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JackSpratts (660957)
      explosions can and have happened with oem batteries. this isn't a safety precaution, it's a profit solution.
    • by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:55PM (#28457513) Journal

      In related news, Sony has announced that it will be installing new firmware locking-out Sony batteries in their laptops, citing safety concerns.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      If you don't believe that can happen, then I suggest you review all the stories of exploding laptop batteries. It can and does happen.

      You, or Panasonic, are MOST WELCOME to PROVE that the rate at which 3rd party batteries fail dangerously, is notably higher than the rate at which Panasonic's own batteries fail dangerously...

      Whenever there's a story about a cell phone, or a laptop, exploding, the first thing the PR people do is complain about unlicensed 3rd party batteries. When it's pointed out that it has

  • ...and your cellphone, and on all devices with batteries and embedded processors.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It'll be even better on cellphones: in an offline environment, any authentication feature will ultimately boil down to embedding a password of some kind(either an actual password, or something moderately more complex, like the serial number signed with the manufacturer's private key) which will always be vulnerable to extraction and cloning(there'll be no way for device A to tell that the serial number of its battery is shared by 100,000 other batteries from the same clone shop).

      In an online environment,
  • Sad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alain_delon (1361705)
    Haven't Panasonic learned anything from Sony's collection of examples of what not to do if you want to keep your position as a market leader?
  • Who? (Score:3, Funny)

    by hondo77 (324058) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:39PM (#28457257) Homepage
    Panasonic makes cameras?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ob disc: I'm a long term pany cam shooter.

      yes, they make cam. they beat canon (you've heard of them, perhaps?) in the superzoom cat every year for the last years since the fz5 came out (4 yrs ago, I think).

      their fz30 and to some extent the fz50 are classics. nothing else has its feature set and can produce really fine quality shots (IFF you use noise reduction and follow some exposure/setting rules).

      this is why the announcement by pany is so annoying. they had a good fan base that knew the product line a

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bursch-X (458146)
      Yes and the pro and semi-pro market is totally Pwned by Panasonic, SONY and JVC (aka Nihon Victor). It's a totally different picture in the 'sumer market, though.
  • I expect nothing less from them, actually. They have certified Panasonic electronics repair locations, after all. There's only one repair shop in my area that is certified. However, I do tend to like their products, and I've had very few issues or complaints with the ones I have. I would gladly pay the premium for their certified products/services, and have in the past, and have been very satisfied.

    Could it be possible that they are doing this as a reaction to the laptop battery recalls? Perhaps they don't

    • If their goal was to dodge a lawsuit, wouldn't they just write, in BIG BOLD LETTERS in the operator's manual (and smaller but still legible letters on a sticker on the battery compartment cover) something like "This device is designed to use only Officially Authorized And Tested Panasonic(R) Camera Batteries. User accepts all responsibility for using a unauthorized third-party battery in this device." The disclaimer would have to be translated into legalese, and IANAL, of course.
  • by KC7GR (473279) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:42PM (#28457315) Homepage Journal

    In 5...4...3...2...

    Well, you get the idea. Any wagers as to how long it'll take for this to hit the legal system? I'm sure the resultant flare-up will be most entertaining. Time to invest in popcorn futures.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by taustin (171655)

      It won't hit the legal system until another battery manufacturer figures out how to crack the system, and makes their batteries work anyway. At which point, Panasonic will probably file a DMCA lawsuit, which will get them a lot of bad publicity, and which, in the end, they will lose (as Lexmark did on their toner cartridges).

  • by goffster (1104287) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:43PM (#28457323)

    The "official" reason why you are not allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon
    is that oregon pavement is wet and hazardous, and only trained grunt's can navigate
    the treacherous pavement.

  • This will guarantee the safety... of their profits!

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @03:44PM (#28457351) Journal

    If I can't use AA or AAA batteries (or some reasonable equivalent) I'm not interested. Even my pro D-SLR has an adapter to use double As.

    Just say no to crap like this. Who needs Panasonic? There are lots of choices out there.

    • Li-ion @ 20 degrees C will lose about 20% of its capacity per year without usage. that means in a few short years it will be time for you to buy a new camera whether you want one or not. I bet there are lots of perfectly good cameras thrown away because their proprietary lithium ion batteries lost their capacity and got discontinued.

      Of course, one can always rebuild the original Panasonic battery pack. just buy a similar voltage and slightly smaller size lithium ion (3.6 or 7.2v usually) on ebay and you
    • by rcw-home (122017) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @04:58PM (#28458581)

      This is exactly why I got a Canon SX10 last year instead of a CoolPix P80, Lumix DMC-FZ28K, Olympus SP-565UZ, or Sony DSC-H50.

      Yes, Li-Ion batteries have about twice the power-to-weight ratios of NiMH, and yes they will last longer. But there's two big reasons to get equipment that uses standard AAs:

      1. AAs are fungible. When hiking, I can get a flashlight and GPS receiver that take the same batteries, and if I run out of spares, I can transfer one to the other. When in town, I can quickly find a store that sells them.

      2. AAs will be around in 5+ years. Li-Ion batteries die in an average of 4 years whether you use them or not. You can get them to last a little longer if you put them half-charged in the fridge. When the manufacturer stops making your model of camera, they'll stop making your model of camera battery. Now, whether or not they or anyone else keep spares sitting on the shelf for all eternity just in case you need to buy one is irrelevant - if you manage to get your hands on a "new" one, it'll be dead out of the box.

      It's quite likely that I will either accidentally kill my camera in that timeframe (that's why I didn't buy a really expensive one) or that I won't care because future cameras will be even cheaper and even more wonderful. But it's not a certainty - and I'd still like something I paid a few hundred bucks for to have a chance of working 5 years after I buy it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rich0 (548339)

      As others have pointed out, AAs have their limitations. However, this really just points to a need for a few more battery standards for modern electronics.

      Rather than everybody who comes out with a device inventing a new battery design, why not invent a few more standard cell sizes with standardized voltages? You could even write up charging specifications for them.

      If there is a concern that charging specs would stifle new battery designs, then just specify the voltages and minimum capacities. Then desig

  • by PHPNerd (1039992) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @04:16PM (#28457827) Homepage
    Maybe they're not doing this to make a buck. If they were doing it to make a buck it strikes me that they wouldn't be so up-front and honest about what the latest firmware update will do to your camera. Perhaps they are just genuinely that uppity and believe that if 3rd party batteries can't meet their quality and safety regulations, then they have to protect their devices from that. It's still not a good reason, but certainly better than screwing over the general population for the sake of making an extra buck.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @04:40PM (#28458213)

    Years back when the digitals were first hitting the market they were even more power-hungry than now. They could suck a set of batteries dry with just a half hour's use. Crafty owners thought they could get around this expense by using rechargeable batteries. Responsible manufacturers will anticipate problems and stick warnings on the box, on neon sheets inside the packaging, etc, when a potential fuckup could happen. The way these cameras were designed, rechargeable batteries would destroy them. I don't know how or why. All of the 1-star reviews on Amazon mentioned the recharge problem and how people had ruined cameras that Kodak would not RMA because they didn't read the manual. The only warning was on page 215 in one unbolded and otherwise unremarkable sentence.

    I never bought another one of their products again. This was utter asshattery. Users would expect to be able to use rechargeable batteries, especially since other cameras on the market did not have this limitation. Certainly a warning on the box would have been helpful, or maybe one of those big neon cards that you simply cannot miss. Maybe a warning sticker taped over the battery compartment. But it's obvious that Kodak knew this would be a deal-breaker for people so they deliberately concealed this design defect.

  • by ehud42 (314607) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @05:03PM (#28458675) Homepage

    I have bought a number of music players, cameras and other electronic gadgets and my number 1 requirement is it must use standard off the shelf batteries (namely AA or AAA). This is for a number of reasons:

    1) Avoid planned obsolescence - hardwired batteries (I'm looking at you Apple) mean the product will be useless by not holding a charge long before I'm done using it.
    2) Emergency power - having proprietary batteries either hardwired or not means that if I run out of a charge while on a road trip or away from my charger, then I'm hooped - I have to wait up to hours for the battery to charge.

    And now:

    3) Stupid vendor lock in - I have better things to spend my money on than overpriced name brand accessories / supplies.

    I look forward to the day when cellphones can efficiently run on 2 or 3 AAA's.

    I just bought a lower end digital camera and steered away from Panasonic as soon as I realized they did not use AA or AAA batteries. Went with a Fuji S1000 - have been happy with it so far - uses the same NiMH AA batteries I have for my Olympus camera, iRiver MP3 player, and LogicTech cordless mouse.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @06:07PM (#28459601)

    Why can't I turn it off?

    I can decide to turn off my airbag. I can decide to turn off my antivirus suit (or I can decide not to use one altogether). I can decide to keep my alarm off when I leave the house. Why can't I decide to use inferior, crappy batteries, knowing well that I put my camera, the picture quality and maybe the life of my dog at risk?

    Another thing that crossed my mind: Is a firmware update that cripples part of the system grounds for a return, even after use for a prolonged period of time? Unless the update is reversible, the camera might cease to work for me. I probably bought the camera under the impression that the feature that was removed was part of the deal, it might have been a critical deciding factor in my choice. If it is, we'll see a lot of happy customers who can toss a dated piece of electronics, get the full price returned and buy a new cam with more features. If it is not, we'll see a lot of companies that sell something, only to cripple it later when you can't back out from the sale. False advertising at a whole new level.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by againjj (1132651)

      Why can't I turn it off?

      I can decide to turn off my airbag.

      I can't (legally). Not unless I get a written waver from NHTSA. Looking at the application [pdf] [safercar.gov], you can see that you can't turn it off on a whim. Maybe you live in a country that doesn't try to over protect, but the example is untrue in a large part of the world.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @06:27PM (#28459823)
    My digital Olympus uses rechargeable AA cells - which was one of my requirements when selecting a camera: No Funny Batteries. NiMH 2500mAh cells run about $10 per 4, and my responsible 2-hour charger handles them all. And in a pinch I can use disposable cells with it. Why anyone would would want anything else is foolish, despite how thin it might make the camera.
  • by benow (671946) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:49PM (#28462225) Homepage Journal
    ... think of the children?! Where am I going to go for my 3rd party battery explosion lottery kicks now?

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