Commons:Reuse of PD-Art photographs
Wikimedia Commons explicitly permits the hosting of photographs that carefully reproduce a two-dimensional public domain work; such photographs are in the public domain in the United States, where this site is based (if you are a Commons contributor, see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information on this policy). However, there may be local laws that prevent or restrict the reuse of such images in your country, some of which are listed below. While we hope this information will be helpful, any use of such content is at your own risk, and you should consider securing legal advice in your jurisdiction before using content.
The U.S. case of Bridgeman v. Corel (1999)
In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), the New York District Court held that "a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original". In spite of the effort and labor involved in creating professional-quality slides from the original works of art, the Court held that copyright did not subsist as they were simply slavish copies of the works of art represented. While the New York District Court does not hold jurisdiction over the whole US, other district courts have generally relied on and expanded on this decision.
The rule therefore excludes from copyright protection photographs which are intended to be no more than a faithful reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art such as a painting. If only technical expertise is involved (to take a faithful and unimaginative picture), the photograph acquires no copyright protection in its own right. The case extends the rule that scans and photocopies of two-dimensional originals are not copyrightable to cover in addition faithful reproductions created in the U.S. through photography.
As a result of this case, anyone taking in the U.S. a mere 'record' photograph of a 2D work of art—plain, full-framed—gets no copyright protection for the photograph. If the original work of art is sufficiently old that its own copyright has expired, the photograph itself will then be free for use in the U.S.
Different countries apply the rules on originality in different ways, and identical images may be treated differently in different jurisdictions. In some countries (such as the UK) faithful reproduction images may be considered sufficiently original to attract copyright protection; in others (such as the Nordic countries) there may be neighbouring rights that apply.
Neighbouring rights ("simple photographs")
In certain countries, any photograph, whether original or not, is covered by a so-called "simple photograph" neighbouring right that amounts to a copyright with a reduced term of protection. If the photo is sufficiently original, the author can additionally be granted normal copyright protection. In the Nordic countries, for example, the right applies to all photographs, including "faithful reproduction" images. However, protection does not normally apply to scans or other photomechanical reproductions — this special neighbouring right applies only to photographs. See Commons:Simple photographs.
/Inconclusive. Court cases in Australia have gone both ways. See Telstra v Desktop Marketing Systems.
De beschermingstermijn van foto's die oorspronkelijk zijn, in de zin dat zij een eigen intellectuele schepping van de auteur zijn, wordt (vastgesteld) overeenkomstig de voorgaande paragrafen.
The protection duration of photographs that are original, in the sense that they are a proper intellectual creation of the author, becomes like previous paragraphs. [and thus copyrighted till 70 years after the death of the author]
The Belgian federal government clarifies this on one of its websites:
Worden daarentegen niet beschermd door het auteursrecht: wat uitsluitend door een machine wordt voortgebracht (satellietbeelden).
The is no copyright protection for what is made solely by a machine (e.g. satellite images).
Simple scans or photographs of public domain documents remain hence in the public domain.
/Inconclusive. Court cases in Canada regarding "sweat of the brow" have gone both ways.
See Nordic countries
/Inconclusive. Court cases in France have gone both ways. See fr:Utilisateur:Jastrow/PD-art (in French).
OK in most cases.
German law distinguishes between photographic works (1) and simple photographs (2), which are protected under a neighbouring right. Simple scans or photocopies are not protected (3). Wikimedia Commons-hosted images of two-dimensional public domain artwork usually fall into the second category.
(1) Photographic works: While definitive guidance from the courts is lacking, it is widely assumed by legal scholars and practitioners alike that the faithful photographic reproduction of a "flat" object generally does not attract protection as a photographic work. In the same vein, the Stuttgart Court of Appeals noted in a 2017 decision that the panel could not find "any substantial use of artistic creativity" in a professional museum photographer's pictures of paintings (although the Court ultimately did not decide the question). In a 2016 decision, the Berlin Regional Court held that professional photographs of paintings made with the intent of reproducing them as closely as possible do not rise to the level of photographic works.
(2) Simple photographs: The Federal Court of Justice decided in 2018 that photographs of paintings are typically protected as simple photographs, pointing out that even if the photographer may attempt to create as faithful a reproduction as possible, she still has to make decisions regarding the compositional circumstances, including position, distance, angle, lighting, and picture detail, and that this is sufficient for purposes of the related right in simple photographs. Shortly thereafter, following a EU Directive, the German Copyright Act was amended, effective 7 July 2021, in an effort to exclude certain photographs of public-domain material from protection as simple photographs. The current legal situation is thus as follows:
Simple photographs of works of visual art in the public domain are not protected. Neither the German Copyright Act nor the EU Directive that prompted the new provision give a definition of the term "works of visual art". In the official reasoning provided with the (at the time: proposed) amendment, the German government notes that it understands the term to match a similar term used in another EU Directive, where "visual works" are explained as including "fine art, photography, illustration, design, architecture, sketches of the latter works and other such works that are contained in books, journals, newspapers and magazines or other works". Materials that are not "works of visual art" may include manuscripts and music sheets. Because the provision refers to works of visual art, it only applies to pictures of material that is an author's own intellectual creation, ie material that, in the abstract, could be eligible for copyright protection, as opposed to, say, paintings created by an elephant. Notably, the exception does not specifically require that the depicted work must have enjoyed protection at any time; accordingly, the Government points out that simple photographs of paintings from the 16th century are also unprotected. Also according to the official reasoning, the exclusion from protection applies to simple photographic reproductions irrespective of whether they were created before or after 7 July 2021. It does not apply to reproductions that constitute photographic works.
Simple photographs that are not exempt from protection as per the preceding paragraph enjoy protection until 50 years after their first publication; if a simple photograph is not published within 50 years following its creation, its protection ends at that point.
(3) Unprotected photographs: Purely mechanical reproductions are not protected. Examples given in the literature are images resulting from the use of a photocopying machine or a document scanner.
OK before 2002 / Not OK otherwise. Reproduction photography is protected by copyright in Italy, but this right subsists until 20 years have elapsed from the year in which the picture was produced.
OK The Agency for Cultural Affairs states photographic reproductions are not copyrightable, though there have been no court decisions. As a similar case, The Intellectual Property High Court ruled that a hand-drawn copy of an old line drawing with minor modifications could not attract copyright as a derivative work because of lack of creativity.  And The Supreme Court did not admit owner to exercise of Copyright.
OK Paragraph 4 of Article 1 of Decree-Law n.o 43/99/M: "A work is original where it is the result of the author’s own creative effort and not merely the appropriation of another person’s creation."
OK The Netherlands transposed the CDSM-directive. Unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation a work of art will remain in the public domain if its underlying work is the public domain (following from article 14 of the CDSM Directive.
Even thought the Netherlands did not transpose article 14 in a new article of the Dutch copyright act, the Ministry did clarify  (page 8, last paragraph):
Dutch: "Het verstrijken van de beschermingstermijn van werken van beeldende kunst leidt ertoe dat die werken tot het publieke domein gaan behoren. Die werken mogen vrijelijk worden hergebruikt. Artikel 14 van de richtlijn bevestigt dit en bepaalt dat reproducties van werken van beeldende kunst niet door het auteursrecht worden beschermd. Dit is slechts anders wanneer de reproducties als zodanig ook weer een werk in de auteursrechtelijke betekenis van het woord opleveren. Daarvoor is noodzakelijk dat er sprake is van een originele schepping die het persoonlijk stempel van de maker draagt. Voor getrouwe reproducties, waarbij bijvoorbeeld kan worden gedacht aan een foto van een schilderij ten behoeve van een ansichtkaart, zal dit doorgaans niet het geval zijn. Voor cultureel erfgoedinstellingen is het auteursrecht dan geen beletsel voor verkoop van zulke ansichtkaarten. De verspreiding van getrouwe reproducties van werken in het publieke domein draagt bij tot de toegang tot en de bevordering van cultuur. Artikel 14 is geheel in lijn met het geldende recht en behoeft daarom geen omzetting."
English: "The expiry of the term of protection for works of visual art means that these works become part of the public domain. Those works may be freely reused. Article 14 of the Directive confirms this and provides that reproductions of works of visual art are not protected by copyright. This is only different if the reproductions as such also result in a work in the copyright sense of the word. For this it is necessary that there is an original creation that bears the personal stamp of the maker. This will generally not be the case for faithful reproductions, such as a photo of a painting for a postcard. For cultural heritage institutions, copyright does not prevent the sale of such postcards. The dissemination of faithful reproductions of works in the public domain contributes to the access and promotion of culture. Article 14 is fully in line with applicable law and therefore does not require transposition."
Generally Not OK. In Denmark (), Finland (), Norway (), Sweden (), and Iceland (), anyone who has produced a photographic picture has an exclusive right to reproduce the picture and to make it available to the public. This right subsists until 50 years have elapsed from the year in which the picture was produced (15 years after the death of the photographer but at least 50 years in Norway).
Photographic reproductions from these countries enter the public domain when both the copyrights on the original and this neighboring right on the photograph have expired. Recent photos are thus never OK, but older ones may be (if the original is in the public domain). These countries had until the 1990s shorter terms for this photography right.
- Iceland: OK before January 1, 1972. Iceland has a term of 50 years since creation.
- Norway: OK before January 1, 1970 if the photographer died before January 1, 1980 Norway had a term of 25 years since creation (but at least 15 years after the death of the photographer) until 1995. If the photographer died later or the picture was taken later, the current terms apply.
- Sweden: OK before January 1, 1969. Sweden had a term of 25 years until 1994.
- Finland: OK if created before January 1, 1972 or published before January 1, 1966. Finland had a term of 25 years since the year of first publication until 1991.
- Denmark: OK before January 1, 1970. Denmark had a term of 25 years until 1995. (§91, 5 in the current law).
However, mechanical reproduction such as photocopying and scanning are not mentioned in the laws, and are probably OK. Similarly, reprints using old etchings and copper-plates are likely not protected.
OK Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional works of art are not eligible for copyright themselves under Polish law, because they are not considered as individual creative activity.
- Sąd Apelacyjny w Warszawie, orzeczenie z 5 lipca 1995 (I ACr 453/95)
- Sąd Najwyższy — Izba Administracyjna, Pracy i Ubezpieczeń Społecznych, orzeczenie z 26 czerwca 1998 (IPKN 196/98)
OK Copyright is granted only to "any changes to an artistic work which require creative intellectual work", while "non-essential changes, additions, cuttings or adaptations, as well as the correction of a work or a collection do not extend their copyright term".
"(5) Fotografickým dielom je zachytenie obrazu prostredníctvom fotografického technického zariadenia, ak je výsledkom tvorivej duševnej činnosti autora; žiadne iné podmienky podľa odseku 1 sa neuplatnia."
OK before 1997 / Not OK otherwise. The Ley de propiedad intelectual (LPI 1996) provides 25 years of copyright to "mere photographs" or similar reproductions, beginning on 1 January of the year following creation.
TITULO V: La protección de las meras fotografías.
Artículo 128. De las meras fotografías.
Quien realice una fotografía u otra reproducción obtenida por procedimiento análogo a aquélla, cuando ni una ni otra tengan el carácter de obras protegidas en el Libro I, goza del derecho exclusivo de autorizar su reproducción, distribución y comunicación pública, en los mismos términos reconocidos en la presente Ley a los autores de obras fotográficas.
Este derecho tendrá una duración de veinticinco años computados desde el día 1 de enero del año siguiente a la fecha de realización de la fotografía o reproducción.
OK In Switzerland, photographs must exhibit an "individual expression of thought" to be subject to copyright. According to applicable Supreme Court case law this requires that the photograph is given an individual character e.g. by the choice of framing, the use of camera settings or the editing of the image. This means that faithful reproduction photographs are not subject to copyright in Switzerland. The State Library of Lucerne also opines in that sense, saying that photographic reproductions of documents from libraries were not "works" in the sense of the copyright law and thus not copyrighted.
See also Swiss copyright law.
Sometimes Not OK in Taiwan, Republic of China:
Article 79 of the Copyright Act: "For a literary or artistic work that has no economic rights or for which the economic rights have been extinguished, a plate maker who arranges and prints the said literary work, or in the case of an artistic work, a plate maker who photocopies, prints, or uses a similar method of reproduction and first publishes such reproduction based on such original artistic work, and duly records it in accordance with this Act, shall have the exclusive right to photocopy, print, or use similar methods of reproduction based on the plate."
Getting this exclusive plate right requires official registration. Once registered, the plate right is good for ten (10) years from the time the plate is completed, to expire at year end.
Cultural Heritage Preservation Act: Item 1 of Article 69: "For the purpose of research and promotion, public antiquities preservation agency (institution) may reproduce and supervise the reproduction of the Antiquities under its custody. Third parties may not make any such reproduction except with the permission and under the supervision of the original custodian preservation agency (institution)."
Item 2 of Article 69: "The rules governing the reproduction and supervision of Antiquities referred to in the preceding paragraph shall be prescribed by the central competent authority."
Item 1 of paragraph 1 of Article 97 provides the administrative fine of 100,000 to 500,000 new Taiwan dollars for "reproducing publicly owned Antiquities without permission from, or supervision of, the original custodian preservation agency (institution) in violation of item 1 of Article 69."
United Kingdom / UK
The courts in the UK traditionally applied a very low test for photographic originality, based on the "skill and labour" required to capture the image, and it was long thought that there would most likely be sufficient originality in a photographer's selection of lighting arrangements, exposure, filters and so on for a new copyright to be generated. However, the 2009 Infopaq decision of the CJEU defined a different test, namely "Is it the author’s own intellectual creation?"
In November 2015, the UK IPO updated its copyright advice notice to include the following:
- Are digitised copies of older images protected by copyright?
- Simply creating a copy of an image won’t result in a new copyright in the new item. However, there is a degree of uncertainty regarding whether copyright can exist in digitised copies of older images for which copyright has expired. Some people argue that a new copyright may arise in such copies if specialist skills have been used to optimise detail, and/or the original image has been touched up to remove blemishes, stains or creases.
- However, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as ‘original’. This is because there will generally be minimal scope for a creator to exercise free and creative choices if their aim is simply to make a faithful reproduction of an existing work.
Although the IPO advice is not binding on the UK courts, it is of useful persuasive value. It's interesting that the official view being taken is that the European Court of Justice has effectively replaced the very low bar of "Was sufficient skill and labour applied?" with the higher one of "Is it the author’s own intellectual creation?".
Note that there is no issue regarding raw unenhanced scans or photocopies of PD illustrations in an old book. These are always OK, as purely mechanical copying has never been capable of creating a new copyright.
United States / USA
OK Under the rule in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corporation, a mere 'record' photograph of a 2D work of art (i.e. a photograph which is an as-accurate-as-possible copy of the original) acquires no copyright protection.
- Category:PD-Art license tags
- Commons:Copyright tags/General public domain#2Dart
- Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag
- Commons:When to use the PD-scan tag
- Thomas Margoni. The digitisation of cultural heritage: originality, derivative works and (non) original photographs. Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
- Wet betreffende het auteursrecht en de naburige rechten. (NOTA : Raadpleging van vroegere versies vanaf 29-04-1995 en tekstbijwerking tot 29-12-2017) Zie wijziging(en). JUSTITIE (30 June 1994). Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
- IJ Schiessel, Reichweite und Rechtfertigung des einfachen Lichtbildschutzes gem. § 72 UrhG (Nomos 2020) 91; F Stang, "Freie Verwendung von Abbildungen gemeinfreier Werke? Zur urheberrechtlichen Bewertung von Angeboten gemeinfreier Bilder bei Wikipedia und Wikimedia Commons" (2009) 1 ZGE 167, 175. See W Bullinger, "§ 1" in K Ebling and W Bullinger (eds), Praxishandbuch Recht der Kunst (Beck 2019) para 22; U Loewenheim and M Leistner, "§ 2" in U Loewenheim, M Leistner, and A Ohly (eds), Schricker/Loewenheim: Urheberrecht (6th edn, Beck 2020) para 213; A Nordemann, "§ 2" in A Nordemann, JB Nordemann, and C Czychowski (eds), Fromm/Nordemann: Urheberrecht (12th edn, Kohlhammer 2018) para 198; H Schack, Kunst und Recht (3rd edn, Mohr Siebeck 2017) para 872; R Jacobs, "Die Katalogbildfreiheit" in JF Baur and others (eds), Festschrift für Ralf Vieregge zum 70. Geburtstag am 6. November 1995 (De Gruyter 1995) 396; AR Klett and C Mikyska, "Die Entwicklung des Urheberrechts seit Mitte 2018" (2019) 22 K&R 441, 443; P Klimpel and F Rack, "Reproduktionen und urheberrechtlicher Schutz" (2020) 1 RuZ 243, 245; H Lehment, Das Fotografieren von Kunstgegenständen (V&R unipress 2008) 37; T Platena, Das Lichtbild im Urheberrecht (Lang 1998) 228; IJ Schiessel, Reichweite und Rechtfertigung des einfachen Lichtbildschutzes gem. § 72 UrhG (Nomos 2020) 91f; L Specht-Riemenschneider and J Paschwitz, "Gemeinfreiheit als Prinzip?: Reichweite und Umsetzungsbedarf des Art. 14 DSM-Richtlinie" (2020) 1 RuZ 95, 97; F Stang, "Freie Verwendung von Abbildungen gemeinfreier Werke? Zur urheberrechtlichen Bewertung von Angeboten gemeinfreier Bilder bei Wikipedia und Wikimedia Commons" (2009) 1 ZGE 167, 175. See also K Garbers-von Boehm, Rechtliche Aspekte der Digitalisierung und Kommerzialisierung musealer Bildbestände (Nomos 2011) 150 ("in most cases"). But see G Pfennig, "Die Begegnung von Fotografie und Kunst" (2007) 9 KUR 1, 4 (photographs of monochrome paintings protected as "highly original" works).
- Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart 31 May 2017, case 4 U 204/16 Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, GRUR 2017, 905 . In a 1996 decision, the Düsseldorf Court of Appeals held that photograph of a drawing displayed in an art exhibition was not a photographic work due to a lack of artistic creativity. Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf 13 February 1996, case 20 U 115/95 Beuys-Fotografien, GRUR 1997, 49, 51. However, the decision was handed down prior to Germany's transposition of the Information Society Directive, which effectively lowered the required threshold of originality.
- Landgericht Berlin 31 May 2016, case 15 O 428/15, ZUM 2016, 766, 768.
- Bundesgerichtshof 20 December 2018, case I ZR 104/17 Museumsfotos, NJW 2019, 757 –.
- Directive 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market (DSM Directive), art 14.
- Section 68 UrhG.
- Draft Bill of the Federal Government, Bundestag Printed Paper 19/27426 of 9 March 2021, p 105. Compare Section 3 to the Annex to the Orphan Works Directive, 2012/28/EU. Wirth gives a few examples of qualifying subject matter: "public-domain sculptures, works of architecture, artfully designed furniture, historic maps and technical drawings". T Wirth, "§ 68 UrhG-E: Vervielfältigungen gemeinfreier visueller Werke" (2020) 64 ZUM 715, 716.
- Cf S Dusollier, "The 2019 Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market" (2020) 57 CML Rev 979, 997; European Copyright Society, "Comment of the European Copyright Society on the Implementation of Art. 14 of the DSM-Directive 2019/790" (2020) 11 JIPITEC 110, para 31.
- G Schulze, "Fotos von gemeinfreien Werken der bildenden Kunst" (2019) 121 GRUR 779, 780.
- See also A-A Wandtke and S Ostendorff, Urheberrecht (8th edn, De Gruyter 2021) 269; G Würtenberger and S Freischem, "Stellungnahme des GRUR-Fachausschusses für Urheber- und Verlagsrecht zum RefE des DSM-Umsetzungsgesetzes" (2021) 123 GRUR 37, 41. It therefore seems broader than art 14 of the DSM Directive, which—at least on its face—(only) requires Member States to exclude photographs from neighbouring rights protection "when the term of protection of a work of visual art has expired" (emphasis added). Cf I Stamatoudi and P Torremans, "The Digital Single Market Directive" in I Stamatoudi and P Torremans (eds), EU Copyright Law: A Commentary (2nd edn, Elgar 2021) para 17.222.
- Draft Bill of the Federal Government, Bundestag Printed Paper 19/27426 of 9 March 2021, p 105.
- Draft Bill of the Federal Government, Bundestag Printed Paper 19/27426 of 9 March 2021, pp 53, 105. See also A-A Wandtke and S Ostendorff, Urheberrecht (8th edn, De Gruyter 2021) 274. Cf European Copyright Society, "Comment of the European Copyright Society on the Implementation of Art. 14 of the DSM-Directive 2019/790" (2020) 11 JIPITEC 110, paras 22ff, and IJ Schiessel, Reichweite und Rechtfertigung des einfachen Lichtbildschutzes gem. § 72 UrhG (Nomos 2020) 120f (both inferring the same directly from the DSM Directive).
- Draft Bill of the Federal Government, Bundestag Printed Paper 19/27426 of 9 March 2021, p 105. See also art 14 DSM Directive ("[...] unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation"). See also I Stamatoudi and P Torremans, "The Digital Single Market Directive" in I Stamatoudi and P Torremans (eds), EU Copyright Law: A Commentary (2nd edn, Elgar 2021) para 17.219; A-A Wandtke and S Ostendorff, Urheberrecht (8th edn, De Gruyter 2021) 268f.
- Section 72(3) UrhG.
- Bundesgerichtshof 8 November 1989, case I ZR 14/88 Bibelreproduktion, GRUR 1990, 669, 673; M Vogel, "§ 72" in U Loewenheim, M Leistner, and A Ohly (eds), Schricker/Loewenheim: Urheberrecht (6th edn, Beck 2020) para 32.
- A Nordemann, "§ 72" in A Nordemann, JB Nordemann, and C Czychowski (eds), Fromm/Nordemann: Urheberrecht (12th edn, Kohlhammer 2018) paras 9, 11; D Thum, "§ 72" in A-A Wandtke and W Bullinger (eds), Praxiskommentar zum Urheberrecht (5th edn, Beck 2019) para 56; M Vogel, "§ 72" in U Loewenheim, M Leistner, and A Ohly (eds), Schricker/Loewenheim: Urheberrecht (6th edn, Beck 2020) para 33; T Prengel, Bildzitate von Kunstwerken als Schranke des Urheberrechts und des Eigentums mit Bezügen zum Internationalen Privatrecht (Lang 2011) 185; IJ Schiessel, Reichweite und Rechtfertigung des einfachen Lichtbildschutzes gem. § 72 UrhG (Nomos 2020) 78.
- Article 87, Chapter V, Rights relating to photographs: «[... ] reproductions of works of graphic art [...] shall be considered to be photographs for the purposes of the application of the provisions of this Chapter» (original version).
- Article 92, Chapter V: «The exclusive right in respect of photographs shall continue for twenty years from the making of the photograph.»
- Decree-Law n.o 43/99/M of August 16, 1999 Copyright Law. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
- Article 70.
- Tekijänoikeuslaki (Finnish Copyright Act) Article 49 a. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
- Lov om opphavsrett til åndsverk m.v. (åndsverkloven) fra 12.mai.1961 Article 43 a.
- Article 49 a.
- Legea nr 8/1996 privind dreptul de autor şi drepturile conexe.
- Slovakia adopts a new Copyright Act: It’s a Mixed Bag – Part I. Kluwer Copyright Blog (29 February 2016). Retrieved on 9 November 2019.
- Ley de Propiedad Intelectual. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
- Blau Guggenheim v. British Broadcasting Corporation BBC,<ref name= BGE 130 (2004) III S. 714-720
- Copyright Notice: digital images, photographs and the internet. Copyright Notice Number: 1/2014 Updated: November 2015. UK Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
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