My Number

Don’t you dare use the number 271277229129081016424883074559900780951 under any circumstances. It’s mine, mine I tell you, and if you use it, or copy it, I can have you arrested and sent to do hard time in prison. And it doesn’t matter whether you use it in decimal, like I used above, or it’s hexidecimal form, “CC16180895F94705F667F1BB6DB20997”, or any other way of encoding it. It’s my number, and you’re not allowed to use it. In fact, I don’t think I want to allow you to look at it – so I’m going to sue all of you for having read this post!

Yes, I’m serious. At least in theory, using that number is a serious crime under US law. And under US law, I’m even allow to show it to you, and then retroactively take back your permission to see it – so that I can effectively force you to break the law, and then penalize you for it.

In case you’ve had your head under a rock for the last few weeks, there’s been some interestingly insane legal manuevering concerning a similar number. A member of the consortium that manages the content protection scheme for HD-DVD accidentally let slip info about a number like the one above. What they did was accidentally put a copy of the encryption key used by a large number of currently published HD-DVDs where someone could see it, and an enterprising geek used the opening to get the key and publish it.

If your were a sane, reasonable person, you might think that if the HD-DVD publishers screwed up and let the cat out of the bag, that they’d be stuck with the consequences. After all – it’s just a damned number, and they’re the ones who screwed up and told us what it was.

Well, all of you sane people out there (are there any sane people who read this blog?) would be wrong. Because under that Digital Millenium Copyright Act (aka the DMCA), that isn’t just a number. It’s a adevice: to be specific, a copyright circumvention device. And just possessing a copyright circumvention device that could allow you to violate a copyright is illegal without the permission of the copyright holder. So having the number on your screen is enough to put you in violation of the law.

The number that I put up is was used by Freedom to Tinker to encrypt a copyrighted poem by Lawrence Lessig. They generated the number, and then assigned all rights involving its use as a decryption key to me. So legally, I now own that number – because it’s a copyright circumvention device. So it doesn’t matter if that happens to be the number of starts in some galaxy: you can’t use it. It doesn’t matter if rendered as a bitmap, it makes a nice pattern that you’d like to use in the background of a picture: you can’t use that background pattern. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if you used that bitmap as part of a background pattern 5 years ago: now that I own the number, your bitmap is retroactively illegal, and I can legally demand that you take down every copy of your image anywhere on the net.

Such is the stupidity of laws written by people who are incapable of understanding what they mean. I don’t think that even the boneheads in Congress are stupid or insane enough to think that this is the way that the law should work. But they went along with what the MPAA lobbyists asked for, even though they didn’t have a clue of how insanely egregious it was. And now they’ll continue to support it, telling anyone who’ll listen that people like me are lying – even while the legal threats aimed at anyone who used that number continue to fly.

0 thoughts on “My Number

  1. Roy

    Sorry, your number fails the test of novelty, as it occurs in ‘prior art’ — as a sequence in the decimal expression of the number pi. I could tell you what the first position after the decimal point is, but I haven’t copyrighted that number yet, so I’m keeping it a business secret.

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  2. A

    I factor your number and wait impatiently for the C&D letter.
    3*11*13*59*21112685023*507645532354220761098967
    Though I’m pretty impressed that the factors are so large if the number is random (?).

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  3. Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Funny because this months Maximum PC has a whole section detailing how to beat copy write protection and to bypass the stupid iTunes and WMA encoding. I was thinking they’re bucking for a summons.

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  4. AdamG

    Mark isn’t claiming he’s got a patent on the number (which would require novelty), just that it falls under the scope of protected materials under the (Draconian) DMCA. This is really scary, and the more I learn about this law, the less I like it. Government is being run by industry more and more…
    What if we all got together and generated software keys for every combination possible, and used them each to protect something copyrightable? Then the RIAA et al couldn’t use them at all, because they’d be circumventing *our* copyright protection measures.

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  5. AdamG

    Mark isn’t claiming he’s got a patent on the number (which would require novelty), just that it falls under the scope of protected materials under the (Draconian) DMCA. This is really scary, and the more I learn about this law, the less I like it. Government is being run by industry more and more…
    What if we all got together and generated software keys for every combination possible, and used them each to protect something copyrightable? Then the RIAA et al couldn’t use them at all, because they’d be circumventing our copyright protection measures.

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  6. xebecs

    What if I encode it by adding 1?
    271277229129081016424883074559900780952
    Excuse me while I go add my attorney’s number to speed dial…

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  7. hibob

    why not take the lunacy one step further?
    As mentioned before, the number doesn’t have to be copyrighted. What happens if you skip the random process and use a decidely non random hexadecimal number instead, such as:
    ‘digitalmillenniumcopyrightact’. Do you now have a case against anyone who refers to the trivially different “digital millenium copyright act”? What if your key “microsoftisaregisteredtrademark” contains other peoples’ IP? is there any language in the law saying that if a copyrighted phrase is in fact a copyright circumvention device, the copyright holder is still allowed to distribute their copyrighted phrase? Or does it go down in an explosion of Mutually Assured IP Destruction?
    As long as we’re chasing them down the rabbit hole, let’s make ’em go all the way.

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  8. qubit

    Well, apparently most students at my school are in violation of the DMCA now, seeing as someone has been going around posting the HD-DVD encryption key on various walls around campus. I think the best part about it is the sheer number of people who recognized the hex code on sight. I eagerly await the C&D letter for my brain. (Or not — the way things are going, it won’t be too long before they start demanding lobotomies to remove the offending number.)

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  9. .mau.

    what if I produce a 32*64 black and white bitmap, made of 128 4*4 pixel, and state that it is my artwork?

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  10. krisztian pinter

    okay, i’ll face the legal procedure for reading it. but in return, i will sue Mark for making me break the law with placing the number on his blog without appropriate warning signs. so he is responsible of my failure, and he must pay for it. it was a great shock to me, as i’m a law-abiding person, so it will cost him a lot.

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  11. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    .mau:
    If you do that, you’d be breaking the law. Doesn’t matter that it’s creative, doesn’t matter that it’s an image. It’s legally defined as a “copyright circumvention device”. Under the insane DMCA, *anything* which expresses the information that is necessary to “circumvent” a copyright protection is illegal.
    The traditional fair use, parody, and artistic use exceptions *do not apply*, because it’s a device for circumventing copyright protection. That’s part of the trick behind the law, which gives copyright holders such obscene power – by redefining things as a *device*, they can circumvent the traditional protections from abusive misuse of copyright.
    See, you’re allowed to parody pretty much any copyrighted work. You’re allowed to make use of copyrighted works in certain contexts for the purpose of artistic expression (so, for example, an artist can usually legally have a “Coke” logo in an artistic work). You’re allowed to cite copyrighted works as a part of a scholarly text.
    But you are *not* allowed, under any circumstances, to produce a *device* which allows others to circumvent copyright. So if you redefine things like numeric encryption keys as devices, then suddenly any use of them, in any circumstance is suddenly illegal. Because it’s *not* a scholarly text, it’s not a piece of art, it’s not a parody. It’s a *device*, and as a device, it’s subject to different rules.

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  12. Reed A. Cartwright

    I read a bunch of the DMCA when this hit the internet last week. According to the law, the infringing device’s primary use has to be to break copyright protection. For instance, PC’s are not illegal because their primary use is not to break copyright protection. Given that an HD-DVD encryption key’s primary use is to enforce copyright protection, it is possible to argue that number is a device that does not violate the DMCA.
    If AACS is going after everyone who posts that number, regardless of the formate, then they will have to sue everyone on the Internet, because given the proper algorithm any string of text can encode that number.

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  13. DouglasG

    There is one thing that I do know, if you want something to get placed in every conceivable way throughout the world, have the RIAA make a stink about it. I have never seen anything posted in so many varying ways than this key. I’ve seen it in cartoons, posters, blog posts, videos…

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  14. DouglasG

    There is one thing that I do know, if you want something to get placed in every conceivable way throughout the world, have the RIAA make a stink about it. I have never seen anything posted in so many varying ways than this key. I’ve seen it in cartoons, posters, blog posts, videos…

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  15. Mark

    I feel compelled to play devil’s advocate here, if only to try and understand the situation a little better.
    Surely the number alone can’t be considered a circumvention device. It must require some interpretation as how to use it to circumvent a copy-protection scheme. I’ve seen “the number” pop up everywhere lately but I’m still in the dark as to how I would actually use it to crack a HD-DVD.
    The situation seems analogous to having code for some algorithm but not knowing what compiler it’s for. Depending on your choice of universal Turing machine a particular bit string can encode whatever computation you like.
    Anyway, kudos to the Freedom to Tinker guys for their sharp piece of legal satire. Hopefully the ridiculousness of this mess will result in some changes to cyberlaw.

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  16. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    mark:
    Unfortunately, you’re wrong. Under the DMCA, just the number is defined as a circumvention device, and it illegal in any and all circumstances without the permission of the owner of the copyrighted materials protected by it. It’s absolutely insane, but it’s unfortunately true.
    It doesn’t matter that the number by itself isn’t enough to do anything with. And it doesn’t matter whether you know how to use it, or whether you even posess the capacity to use it. Posession of the number in any format, under any circumstances, is possession of a circumvention device, which is illegal under the law.
    It’s true that *if* they tried to prosecute you for one of the more frivolous cases of using the protected number, the copyright owners would almost certainly lose the case when it went to trial. But before that happened, you’d have to go through all of the pre-trial process, and pay all of your legal bills to get to the point where they lost the case.
    And the cases of doing things like posting the number on a blog – it’s far less clear that they’d lose.

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  17. Gerald

    I own the number 00000000000000000000000000000000 and I will sue anybody who uses it to decrypt things (using my advanced algorithm ‘+’).
    I see your site is full of text that can be decrypted with my key, so I suspect you must have acquired it without my permission. See you in court.

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  18. Brian

    I like to go hibob one further. Instead of ‘digitalmilleniumcopyrightact’, how about you encrypt something copyrighted using the numeral ‘2’? Then you sue Paramount every time it uses the number 2 in any of its communications.

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  19. Reed A. Cartwright

    MarkCC: “Unfortunately, you’re wrong. Under the DMCA, just the number is defined as a circumvention device, and it illegal in any and all circumstances without the permission of the owner of the copyrighted materials protected by it. It’s absolutely insane, but it’s unfortunately true.”
    Mark, it is not as clear as you make it sound. From the DMCA law:

    (2) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that–
    (A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title;
    (B) has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; or
    (C) is marketed by that person or another acting in concert with that person with that person’s knowledge for use in circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.
    (3) As used in this subsection–
    (A) to “circumvent a technological measure” means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and
    (B) a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

    It is possible to argue that the HD-DVD key does not meet these requirements because there is nothing in the law about “escaped secrets” clause. The law appears to have been written with the idea of circumventing third party technology, not the technology of the copyright holder. So if a device was primarily designed for copyright protection, but in skilled hands it can be used for to circumvent copyright protection, the existing primary use should mean that said device does not run afoul of the anti-circumvention language in section 2.A and 2.B above.
    Under this interpretation, if AACSLA were to argue that their own key is primarily designed to circumvent copyright protection, then they would be admitting that their own copyright protection scheme violates itself, and they have been shipping circumvention devices with every HD-DVD.
    Of course AACSLA might own a copyright or patent to its device, under which it could sue people who distribute it without their permission. However, last time I check one couldn’t copyright or patent a number, even a CD key.

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  20. Brian Jaress

    I’m one of those who had his head under a rock and missed all this.
    After reading the quotation of the law from your link, I think encryption keys don’t count as circumvention devices. I can see why they’d claim that because it does get around the normal exceptions, but I really don’t think it applies.
    The way it’s written, something has to be a “technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof” first. Then, if it meets the other conditions, it can be a circumvention device.
    Encryption keys shouldn’t count because the specific key is not part of the technology — it works the same whatever key you pick, and they’re almost always picked at random. What matters is that you keep it a secret, not the particular number itself.

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  21. Jaqui

    ooohhh, I like this, my content protection scheme uses the English dictionary, so your entire posts are all in violation. The English Language is a device to circumvent my content protection.

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  22. Daniel

    I actually have a patent on “posting about stupid laws with numbers”, which I registered 2 years ago… This blog is going down!
    I also own copyright to 7-letter words, you will no longer be able to “preview” your posts or eat “bananas” πŸ™‚

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  23. Ahruman

    It is likely that distributing the number would be found legal in court. However, cases of this nature rarely go to court, because of the expense involved; it’s all about harrassing people into obedience. (This is probably in itself illegal, but of course the harrassed can’t afford to pursue that in court either…)

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  24. SteveM

    #26:

    actually have a patent on “posting about stupid laws with numbers”, which I registered 2 years ago… This blog is going down!
    I also own copyright to 7-letter words, you will no longer be able to “preview” your posts or eat “bananas” πŸ™‚

    Yeah and I have a patent on posting claims about owning fictional patents, my lawyers will be calling.
    I’m just so tired of seeing comments like that whenever someone tries to discuss some stupid patent. In a very different forum I was trying to discuss a different patent and the discussion was just flooded with people commenting “I patented 1’s and 0’s”, “I patented filing stupid patents”, “I patented air”. It is just so much noise with no signal and gets annoying real fast.

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  25. Ken Hirsch

    now that I own the number, your bitmap is retroactively illegal, and I can legally demand that you take down every copy of your image anywhere on the net.

    This is not at all an accurate representation of what’s going on. No one is claiming they own the number. The AACS-LA is not claiming that all uses of the number are illegal, just the ones where the number is given as the key for AACS.
    Imagine that I posted somewhere that there are 78,051,120 inhabitants of France. No objection, right? On the other hand, imagine that I posted that Mark Chu-Carroll’s Social Security Number is 078-05-1120. Still no objection? It’s the same number, but the context is different.
    I could give more examples:
    Mark Chu-Carroll’s Visa number is 4038 3843 8343 3431, with the expiration date 0608, PIN 3898 and CVV code 379. Those are just numbers, right? You don’t own them. How about your bank account number 937103430? Or the key code that can be used to create a new key for your car? Or the alarm deactivation code?
    Now, the AACS-LA’s efforts are certainly futile, but in principle there’s nothing wrong with trying to stop people from publishing certain secrets, even if they happen to be in the form of numbers.

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  26. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Ken:
    You’re deliberately obscuring the important facts of what the DMCA says and how it’s being used by people like the HD-DVD folks.
    Part of the problem is that under the DMCA, *it doesn’t matter* how I found the number or what I use it for. It’s defined as a circumvention device, and as such, the owner of the copyrighted material has the right to sue people for any use of it. Any use. It doesn’t matter how ridiculously irrelevant it is.
    Sure, they’ll lose when it gets to trial. But the reason that the law was passed – the reason that the industry lobbyists pushed for this feature to be in the law – is because it gives them the right to sue for *any* use of things like this number. No matter how stupid it gets, they have the right to sue.
    And the effect of that is to make it easier for people like the movie industry bozos who managed to leak their encryption code to harass people. Because the way the legal system works, to an individual confronted by a movie studio, it doesn’t matter that their innocent. They’ll still need to defend themselves in court, and the costs of that are so high that most people can’t afford to fight it.
    If the bits of my social security number happens to be included in the mpeg stream for a video somewhere, I have no right to sue the producer of the video. None. If the digits of my credit card happen to be appear in a stream of numbers in a Matrix-style screen saver, but it doesn’t say “These are the digits of MarkCC’s mastercard”, then I have no right to sue. But if the bits of the HD-DVD code happen to be part of the mpeg stream for a video, or the digits appear in a Matrix-style screen-saver, then the movie studios whose movies are encrypted using that series of bits as a key *do* have the right to sue the producer of the video.
    The DMCA grants those new special rights to the owners of copyrighted material. If they distribute their material in an encrypted form as part of a method of intellectual property protection, then *any* mention of the keys is illegal without the permission of the copyright owner.

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  27. Kadeo

    I have to agree with Ken here: the context matters. Suppose the number happened to be the population of my hometown. The DMCA, as quoted above, states (and forgive me for not knowing the proper html tags):
    “(2) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that– (A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; (B) has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; or (C) is marketed by that person or another acting in concert with that person with that person’s knowledge for use in circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”
    Going through the parts in (2) point by point…
    Under A, posting the number as population isn’t made to break the code, it’s designed to let you know how large my hometown is. For B, the commercially significant use is to let you know the same. And I’m not marketing if for use in circumventing technology.
    So, while it doesn’t matter how one finds the number, it does matter what it is used for and how it is presented. Now, people can sue for whatever and under any law. However, that’s no guarantee that they’ll win or that it’s in accord with the law.
    The DMCA law, at least as quoted above, only forbids uses of these that are primarily designed to allow people to circumvent the copyright protection. This means posting it on a website saying “Hey, this is how you break their protection.” That doesn’t mean saying “Hey this is how many people live in France.” If there’s other parts of the law that do, I’d love to see them, but I don’t think there are.

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  28. Daniel

    #28
    And I’m tired of people so touchy about everything.
    If you post about patents, there’s going to be patent-related jokes. Nothing you can do about it.
    Now really,
    some patents are so stupid, that there isn’t even place for a serious discussion. Nothing to do about it… except well.. some jokes. πŸ™‚

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  29. Ken Hirsch

    But if the bits of the HD-DVD code happen to be part of the mpeg stream for a video, or the digits appear in a Matrix-style screen-saver, then the movie studios whose movies are encrypted using that series of bits as a key *do* have the right to sue the producer of the video.

    The AACS-LA is not claiming that and I don’t see anything in the law that says that.
    Not to mention that the odds of the key occurring by accident are infinitesimal. But, since this is a math blog–If each person on Earth produced 100MBytes/sec of random bytes, that’s about 10^26 bytes per year total. But 2^128 > 10^38. There’s only about a 1 in 10^12 chance that the AACS key in question appears in 32 consecutive bytes.

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  30. William Hyde

    I hereby copyright “24” and order Fox to stop using my number for that show.
    I also propose severe punisment for anyone who ever says “24/7” again.
    Pity this wasn’t possible when I was in school. I’d have copyrighted 0-99, so there’s be only one grade I could legally be assigned.
    William Hyde

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  31. SteveM

    “And I’m tired of people so touchy about everything.
    If you post about patents, there’s going to be patent-related jokes. Nothing you can do about it.”
    What is annoying is not that it is a joke, but they are ALL THE SAME JOKE, over and over again. “I patented the alphabet”, “I patented the numbers 1-99”, “I patented the number pi”, “I patented the electron”, … enough already.

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  32. Brian Jaress

    Ken Hirsch:
    It’s illegal for you to possess marijuana, even if you’re using it as mulch. It’s illegal for you to possess an atom bomb, even if you’re using it as a doorstop. The DMCA created new category of contraband, and it’s defined in terms of typical use, not the specific use of the person being sued.
    The take-down letters are citing and quoting the circumvention device law verbatim, so there’s no question that AACS-LA is claiming it as their basis. Context is not going to save you.
    The chances of generating the key at random are a red herring. There are perfectly legitimate intentional uses for this number — for example, watching movies from a copy you bought. The point is that if it did come by accident, that wouldn’t make a difference.
    As I commented earlier, I think the number isn’t a “technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof” because it wasn’t specially crafted to work a certain way. It was chosen arbitrarily when a number was needed, and it has no special properties specific to this use (except the fact that it was chosen). It is like the combination to a safe: not a device and therefore not a device for circumvention.
    The DMCA is bad even with that distinction, but I think it is there and it makes AACS-LA legally wrong.

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  33. Blake Stacey

    SteveM:

    What is annoying is not that it is a joke, but they are ALL THE SAME JOKE, over and over again. “I patented the alphabet”, “I patented the numbers 1-99”, “I patented the number pi”, “I patented the electron”, … enough already.

    I feel the same pain. . . I think all the “jokes” on this subject were used up during the DeCSS fracas seven years ago.

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  34. Confused

    Fascism of the New Millenioum is not supposed to appear concerning to most of the average suburban middle-of-the-roaders until it is too late. Heh, heh.

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  35. Daniel

    I would like to publicly apologize for making yet another stupid patent-related joke.
    I am very sorry if I offended any of the “i’m-so-tired-of-patent-related-jokes-that-I-don’t-even-realize-that-everything-I-say-or-do-was-probably-already-been-said-or-done-many-times” guys.
    Guess it’s time to go back to the good old Chuck Norris jokes…

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  36. Jonathan Vos Post

    I can refer to it indirectly by the next prime greater than it:
    271277229129081016424883074559900780951 + 20
    = 271277229129081016424883074559900780971 is prime.
    Number of divisors: 2
    Sum of divisors:
    271 277229 129081 016424 883074 559900 780972
    Euler’s Totient:
    271 277229 129081 016424 883074 559900 780970
    Moebius: -1
    Sum of squares: a^2 + b^2 + c^2
    a = 10 495555 574876 205125
    b = 10 495555 574876 205125
    c = 7 138897 357327 043061
    As someone who does a lot of Number Theory, I react to most integers by immediately wondering what primes are near.

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