Your Toner Is No Good Here: Region-Coding Ink Cartridges… For The Customers

from the all-ink-must-provide-proof-of-citizenship.-that-is-all. dept

Everyone likes buying stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things we “own” often remain the property of the manufacturers, at least in part. That’s the trade-off we never asked for — one pushed on us by everyone from movie studios to makers of high-end cat litter boxes and coffee brewers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary packets brick functions until manufacturer-approved refills are in place.

Here’s another bit of ridiculousness, via Techdirt reader techflaws. German news outlet c’t Magazin is reporting that Xerox printers are going further than the normal restrictions we’ve become accustomed to. For years, printer companies have made sure users’ printers won’t run without every single slot being filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling every function (including non-ink-related functions like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed.

Xerox is going further. Not only do you need to refill the ink, but you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywalled, German-language article.

Xerox uses region coding on their toner catridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) catridge you can’t use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe) anymore. The printer’s display does NOT show this, nor does the hotline know about it. When c’t reached out to Xerox, the marketing drone claimed, this was done to serve the customer better, I kid you not.

Ah, the old “serve the customer better by limiting his/her options,” as seen everywhere DRM/DRM-esque restrictions are applied.

But while c’t Magazin has only recently stumbled across this issue of region-locked ink cartridges, it’s by no means a new issue. Techflaws also points to a 2011 forum post by a user who ran into this problem with his Xerox printer.

I have seen hundreds of posts regarding the rejection of ink based on the location of purchase. I asume that Xerox does this to prevent the purchase of ink not manufactured by them. However – forcing a client to pay for a service for a snippet that needs to be installed in order to use the printer is ABSURD.

I changed from HP to Xerox because I thought it was a trusted name. I have instead learned that in the process of trying to protect against counterfeit – it is the paying customer that will get a non-functioning printer – with no help unless you are willing to pay for the printer to work as it should have to begin with.

So, it appears that if you attempt to forcefeed a Xerox printer not-from-around-here ink, it will potentially brick the device. At that point, you’re forced to ask for a Xerox rep to drop by and unlock your purchased printer for you. Here’s another confirmation of Xerox’s “locals only” ink limitations.

As I live in the UK my ink blocks are for the European market. If I purchase from ebay, ink blocks for the USA or Asian market and insert them into my printer, the printer will stop with a contact your engineer code on the LCD. The printer is now unusable.

The rate charged to the person in the forum post quoted above was $596/hour. There’s no missing decimal point there. Sure, it’s only 10 minutes of work, but it’s $60 being shelled out by a paying customer just so his printer will go back to printing. The only thing actually “broken” is Xerox’s business model.

This person notes they switched from HP to Xerox because the latter was supposedly more trustworthy. Apparently not. Printers aren’t a business. They’re a racket. HP is no better than Xerox. It too will lock your printer to a certain region to ensure you receive only the best customer service purchase only most profitable ink cartridges.

If dates are anything to go by, HP likely pioneered the bullshit that is region-locked ink. This is from a 2005 Slashdot post. (The internal link to the Wall Street Journal is dead, so it has been omitted.)

Looks like the printer cartridge manufacturers will be borrowing techniques from Hollywood. HP introduced region coding for some of the newest printers sold in Europe. HP’s US location and US dollar sliding lead to the situation, where cartridge prices in Europe are significantly higher than those in the States. In the Wall Street Journal article HP representative in Europe claims the company doesn’t make any money off regional coding for cartridges, and that consumers will win once the US dollar rises over Euro.

Unbelievably, the rep says customers will “win” if an aspect HP can’t control (currency exchange rates) happens to shift in the customers’ favor. Why not just say consumers will be better off if those scratch tickets are winners? Or if the housing market rebounds and brings the residence housing the HP printer back into the black?

How much have consumers “won” since 2005?

In January of 2005 (when the post appeared at Slashdot), the exchange rate was 1.312 ($$ to Euros). A decade later, the exchange rate is 1.162. The dollar has gotten stronger, but this change is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the price of “European” ink (wtf even is that, HP, Xerox, et al — ink is ink). Thanks for the investment tip, HP PR.

Nearly every major printer manufacturer is in on the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase incremental sales and staked out this territory in 2004. This brave new world of customer-screwing was followed by Lexmark, Canon, Epson and Xerox — none of which saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to certain regions.

Region coding for DVDs and videogames makes a certain amount of sense, provided you’re willing to make a small logic buy-in on windowed releases. But ink? It’s not like Australians need to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges so as not to sabotage the US release. The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner. This lock-in is cemented by many printers’ refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges.

The excuses made for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren’t so transparently dismissive of customers. Every flowery ode to customers’ best interests by PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, “Fuck ’em. It’s not like they have a choice.”

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Companies: canon, epson, hp, lexmark, xerox

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Comments on “Your Toner Is No Good Here: Region-Coding Ink Cartridges… For The Customers”

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110 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The voltage thing ceased to be an issue 20 years ago”

Believe me it’s still very real today.

As an example if the fuser is driven from the mains voltage (because running from DC would be inefficient for a heating element) then it will be voltage dependent.

Yes switchmode DC supplies are great but variable input voltage types are not always that efficient or even possible for high current applications.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

False. There may be genuine reasons why I wish to operate a device that comes from a place with a different electrical output. As a consumer, I should be able to make that choice.

If confusion or accidental supply of the wrong part is your concern, there are ways to differential the components, from suing different names/part numbers of manufacturing them in such a way that a part from one region literally won’t fit into a printer from a different region.

But, leave the region locking bullshit out of it. That’s only ever used for one real purpose – forcing people to buy a higher-priced local version rather than being able to shop around.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Only bright spot to this

They’re doing this precisely because people are printing less. It’s like newspapers filling their pages with ads because circulation is down — driving away their last customers. Devaluing your long-term viability in hopes of a short-term cash grab is the last gasp of a fading market. They literally can’t think of anything else.

House on fire? Here, try this flamethrower.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, No, No.

Regional ink markets just make good sense.

Ink sold in Iowa, for instance, can be sold as ‘corn-based’. Markup: 25%.

Ink sold in Nebraska can be sold as ‘pigshit-based’. Markup: 32%.

Ink sold in India can be backfilled with mercury and other cost-effective fillers and sold as ‘Murican!’ Markup: 13%.

Zip code based micro-regions are important in areas like Washington, D.C. Ink destined for the DOJ requires the thick ‘Redacto-Blend’. Markup: 325%, while ink going to Congress requires the much thinner ‘printed-on-a-tissue-of-lies’ blend. Markup: 600%.

Yes, ink markets are important, not only for specific customer needs, or “customer needs hahahaha”, but for the much more relevant ‘where-are-we-going-to-get-the-money-for-our-Caribbean-conferences’ requirements.

Ink: because the world runs on chumps not knowing any better.

Haywood (profile) says:

I'll find a way

I’ve given up on inkjets, just too much bother. I’m all about B&W laser at the moment. i just take my colored printing to my discount club and use their setup. Cheaper and better in the long run. I did try the giant ink tanks mounted outside of the inkjet, and that worked surprisingly well. What I have not considered is bending over for the printer overlords.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: I'll find a way

This! This is great advice for nearly anyone. It’s still possible to be screwed by expensive consumer toner, but it’s not hard to shop around for a brand that prints things affordably. YMMV whether it’s better to print color at home or elsewhere.

My partner is currently studying her masters, and we print more than a thousand pages a year, much of it double-sided. Toner is the only thing keeping that even vaguely feasible. Not to mention printing faster and quieter than inkjets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Genderfluid: able to change gender by the power of your mind – usually using biofeedback techniques.

Intersex: The mathematical method of intersection between male and female genetics.

Since gender is determined by a select number of genes on the Y chromosome (unless specific genetic damage has caused those specific genes to migrate to the X chromosome in the XY pair of the father), I would suggest that those who are genderfluid are abnormal specimens since they have the ability to change their genetic makeup dynamically and may not actually be human at all. If they aren’t human then there are two possiblilities: either they are not from this planet or have been constructed in a laboratory somewhere (most likely military).

Let’s see how long it takes for the fools to not see the sarcasm in the above.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Well, I don’t think they can restrict ink for printer with ink tanks. So yeah, I went for those in my latest purchase and it’s working wonders.

What type is it? I would love to have an easily refillable printer. I stopped buying ink cartridges several years ago. I was spending $60 to buy them locally and only getting about 70% of the estimated output.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

This is the sort of thing that gives capitalism a bad name

…which is not entirely fair, as people can be asshats in any system, and eventually the market does “reward” such people in the same way that they “serve” the customer.

But those wheels of karma can turn slow.

The solution of course is to buy somebody else’s printers.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Good News...I think

Have you heard of the new printers from Epson? It seems that the market may be working. Since enough customers are now in on the scam, one OEM is launching a printer that promises to screw you less!

The Epson Eco Tank printers will sell at a higher initial price, which one hopes is profitable for Epson, and in return (ostensibly) will have much more affordable ink.

Epson claims the ink tanks will hold 20 times the quantity the normal cartridges hold, and will be cheaply refillable by just pouring in more ink from a bottle.

Basically, it is a printer that eschews the “razor and blade” business model that we see in the above story by Tim, in favor of a more straightforward business model.

But, let’s see if reality matches marketing. The printers are set to sell in September.

Anonymous Coward says:

I worked on an HP printer this week that had a setting that spun it as letting you “protect your own ink cartridges”, as if ink cartridge thievery within your business is an epidemic.

The screwed up thing is that setting was off when I found it, yet a replacement printer (refurbished, of course) still refused to use the ink cartridges from the one that the print head died in on the grounds of being “protected”. So she was stuck with the puny starter cartridges that came with the refurbished replacement.

Gee, thanks HP!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And some things about Xerox in general. We have a Xerox printer here that is unbelievably slow at processing jobs, and it’s normal. Also, every once in a while decides to choke on a print job and refuses to print anymore, and then subsequent jobs just stack up behind it. Going into the web interface and trying to delete the job results in a “denied” because it’s in the “decomposing” stage. The fix? Power off and back on, right? Haha, no, silly! You have to do a wipe of the whole hard drive, which takes about 20 minutes. Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often.

Rekrul says:

Why has nobody created replacement firmware to remove this limitation? Is it that a user can’t flash the firmware in a printer? There’s replacement firmware for many models of DVD drives to remove region coding, so I would think it only natural that someone would create new firmware to remove a stupid restriction like this. Of course it would invalidate the warranty, but once the warranty expires you’re good to go.

Oh THAT Brian! says:

This will stop when ...

every person who buys one of these ‘defective’ printers also purchases an extended warranty. When a bad print cartridge bricks their printer, they will put the old ‘genuine’ cartridges back and return the printer to the store to be replaced. Eventually, the store will stop carrying the ‘defective’ printers and insist upon printers that don’t care which country the ink comes from.

I know several people who wait for inexpensive printers to go on sale at the big box stores. They will buy 2 or 3. WHen they run out of ink, they take the printer to be recycled (or better yet, take it to a charity for a tax deduction). They pull one of the ‘extra’ printers out of the box and start using it. If done properly, they have a new printer two or three times a year. And it STILL costs them less than buying full cartridges!

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So a 10 year old story is news?

I read it in its entirety the first time. Tim doesn’t give a date for the forum post that actually references the bricked printers, and whilst he does follow the 2011 (not 2013) forum post with So, it appears that if you attempt to forcefeed a Xerox printer not-from-around-here ink, it will potentially brick the device. that followup cannot reasonably be extrapolated from the quoted forum post without further information being given by the OP.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 So a 10 year old story is news?

You know, having a desktop or laptop computer is no excuse for not realising that not everyone has that option.

I suspect you can’t win this one. I’ll bet I could buy four fully loaded, obsolete for Windows(TM) but perfect for Linux, towers or pizza box or laptop computers for the price you paid for that smartphone, and even more if we consider the monthly payments to your provider. They wouldn’t be gaming rigs, but they’d suffice otherwise.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 So a 10 year old story is news?

Really? You can buy four desktops for $314? Yeah, right!

I paid C$80 for my second hand HP Pavilion g4 laptop (64 bit AMD A4-3300M, 4 GHz). Lemme do the math … 3 Gb HD, 5 Gb RAM. It was about five years old when I bought it. I’ve seen newer (than that) pizza box PCs selling loaded second hand for ca. C$120.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:11 So a 10 year old story is news?

You didn’t say which version of Windows. Given the fact that there are PCs built just two years ago and being sold new right now that will never be upgradeable to Windows 10. Then consider the fact that some people will say that their machine is ‘obsolete’ for a given OS just because they don’t want it on there.

Printer technician perspective....... says:

Holding manufacturers to a higher standard than they deserve

QUOTE
“The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner.”

This is a gross over simplification – for example it ignores the losses these companies make from end users with toner inclusive contracts that sell their ‘spare’ toners on sites like eBay at inflated prices.

As the price of printer hardware falls the cost of toner has to go up or there will be no incentive to stay in the industry. Office printers are a commodity product at this point..

Companies like Microsoft can sell the hardware like the Xbox at a loss as they have other more lucrative revenue streams. Ricoh, Canon & Xerox – not so much.

QUOTE
“This lock-in is cemented by many printers’ refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges.”

Third party toner cartridges are not produced to the same level of quality as originals – even by the major companies themselves. This is not an industry myth, i’ve seen it many times. Most recently with Xerox brand ‘HP Compatible’ colour toners that were utter garbage. Switch back to HP originals – print quality improved and service calls instantly reduced.

Like it or not printers are complex machines, they run better with quality parts inside. I could run my car on chip fat for a while but it won’t do it much good – pretty sure it’s illegal too. Running a printer on cheap ‘off brand’ toner is just asking for trouble.

These companies are trying to make money, that’s why they exist. They follow these practices to protect their profits, to limit the support call burden caused by inferior parts and to protect their customers from a bad user experience.

Restricting toners is not a plot cooked up to rip off end users. Try buying legit toners from a legit reseller, you’ll pay a little more – but you get support and will never end up spending cash on toners that are incompatible with your device.

Or buy cheap – buy twice…….. and have cause moan about it online.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Holding manufacturers to a higher standard than they deserve

The price of replacement ink. Hmmm. A one litre bottle (for a reseller) will cost a certain number of their children. However, by selling in 20 ml lots, they will actually increase the number of children they can support by a fairly large number.

At one time, ink prices (to the consumer) made the commodity far more valuable than gold of the same weight. Printer companies will make the ink at a price point that will generate the profits they desire. Since the customer base is a captive market, they can charge what they want.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Holding manufacturers to a higher standard than they deserve

They follow these practices to protect their profits, to limit the support call burden caused by inferior parts, and to protect their customers from a bad user experience.
Only the first part of that quote is in any way accurate. Why? Because cheap knock-off parts made in China equals ‘quality’ parts made in China with cheap knock-off components by unscrupulous factory owners seeking extra profits. That’s why nothing lasts like it used to: outsourcing syndrome. If printer manufacturers really wanted to limit the support call burden caused by inferior parts and protect their customers from a bad user experience, they don’t need to lock out unofficial components, they instead need to bring manufacturing to the place where the parts are being sold and give customers the quality they’re paying for. Simples!
BTW, running a car on cooking oil won’t automatically wreck your engine nor is it illegal as long as all relevant taxes are paid. Care to try again?

Printer technician says:

Follow up

Region locking Toner is better for Xerox and that’s the main reason it’s done. We can all agree on that.

You don’t have to like it, and – guess what- you don’t have to buy Xerox.

What my post was trying to get at is there are more reasons to do it than purely to shaft end users.

I’m a copier tech. All my customers lease machines with supply contracts that include legit toner. This issue will never affect them and they are the majority of Xerox’s customers globally.

If I buy a cheap Xerox printer with no contract they are looking to make money on supplies not the device. So they have to control the supply.

I don’t see why the author of this post and various commenters expect Xerox to make it easy for people to work around this.

They COULD sell you a machine and let you run any parts you like- but they’d have to charge a higher price for the hardware. That means fewer sales, less market share and no control over quality or reliability.

I can’t imagine anyone at a Xerox board meeting suggesting that as a business model.

Sheogorath – fair cop on the veg oil analogy it’s legal I UK I didn’t realise. Doesn’t mean it’ll convince me it’s a better way to run my car though.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Follow up

I repeat: if printer manufacturers really wanted to limit the support call burden caused by inferior parts and protect their customers from a bad user experience, they don’t need to lock out unofficial components, they instead need to bring manufacturing to the place where the parts are being sold and give customers the quality they’re paying for. I’m basically saying that if printer manufacturers sold parts that were better and lasted longer than cheap tat from China, then people would use the better parts without having to be locked into doing so. But as long as the only differences between official parts and unofficial parts are price and logo…

Peter Griffiths (user link) says:

Unfair Trading

It is the criminal offence of Unfair Trading throughout the EU to withhold information which might change the decision of customers, or to give them false information. If your decision would have been changed if you knew that you could not buy cheaper ‘compatible’ ink, or that your machine would not work without German made ink, you may ask the authorities to prosecute the seller, and of course you may demand your money back, and try for compensation.
To get action, of course, many people must complain to trading standards officers. An online petition might be the answer.

Printer technician says:

So which models actually affected- just 2??

Admittedly I can’t read German, and original Url is paywalled. But this looks like it affects the 6605 and 6605 model xerox printers only.

Anyone have and evidence of this affecting other models? Any facts?

Seems to me that a factory reset and installation of approved toner would solve the problem if you had it. I get that this lock in is in some ways ‘unfair’. But the assumption being repeated in this thread is that all toner is made the same – this is incorrect.

The xeroxgraphic process used in laser/led printers generally uses 4 components – toner, imaging drum, transfer belt and fuser. If you put knock off toner with a different melting point in your printer it won’t fuse the toner to the paper. If the particle density of the toner differs from that expected by imaging drum you’ll get sucky image quality.

Add to that all toner is either pre or post mixed with a ‘developer’ agent to give it static charge. If this differs from manufacture specs quality suffers.

Given all that – the expectation that we should be able to use any toner with any printer is just wishful thinking.

Xerox shouldn’t region lock toners, it’s a jerk move. They should make 2 types – contract only and non contract and they should work in any part of world. But in my opinion you should only expect to use a 6605 toner from Xerox in their machines. As a repair tech I don’t want to have to face off with a customer who chose to cheap out on toner, has issues and now expects me to fix the damage at the cost of my time and parts.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: So which models actually affected- just 2??

Given all that – the expectation that we should be able to use any toner with any printer is just wishful thinking.

I’m sure everyone would agree with that, but it’s a strawman argument – nobody has that expectation.

The point of this discussion is that people expect that Xerox official toner should work in Xerox printers, which isn’t the case and is resulting in printers being disabled.

Seems to me that a factory reset and installation of approved toner would solve the problem if you had it. I get that this lock in is in some ways ‘unfair’.

So… you can either pay a Xerox technician to come and fix your printer, or you can pay Xerox for more official toner – that hopefully won’t disable your printer this time – and lose all of your printer settings and have to spend time reconfiguring it. I can’t imagine why people would think this is ‘unfair’.

But in my opinion you should only expect to use a 6605 toner from Xerox in their machines. As a repair tech I don’t want to have to face off with a customer who chose to cheap out on toner, has issues and now expects me to fix the damage at the cost of my time and parts.

This is the generic medicine argument.

People would like to be able to use third-party toner that is designed for their specific printer. If Xerox wanted to be awesome about it, they could release detailed specifications for the requirements for the toner for each of its printers, but let customers know that they’ll be on the hook for any repairs from using third-party toner, and that there are no guarantees of quality when using third-party toner.

Then let the market decide – if some brand of third-party toner is cheaper and has a reputation of just as good quality and not breaking the printer, then Xerox has incentive to try to do better. Crappy third-party knockoffs won’t get repeat business after people have to pay to get their printers fixed.

Thanks for your perspective, and I get that having to deal with other peoples’ senses of entitlement sucks, but historically it has never been best business practice to tell your customers that they’re using your product wrong. Put the business first and continue to be mediocre, or put the customer first and be awesome – that is (a vastly oversimplified version of) the choice in front of every business.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: DRM

In short, taxation. Now I’m confused, which meaning is worse?

Ostensibly, taxation buys you services the gov’t provides (police protection, legal protection, military defence, …). The other kind of DRM protects (again ostensibly) the rights of others wrt stuff you legally own, which makes no sense to me. If I own it legally (the seller has been compensated and willingly relinquished ownership to me), why does someone else get to tell me how I can use it? Apparently, I don’t own it. “May I have my money back please?” No, you already broke the shrink wrap.

Now all you can do is boycott. “Fool me once, …”

Ink Cartridges (user link) says:

Action to solve..

It’s true and Xerox has withheld the information that using the ‘wrong’ ink cartridges in your printer has the potential to brick the machine. Though this doesn’t seem to be about knock-offs, but about legit cartridges that happen to have been sold in a different country. Finally, to get action, many people must complain to trading standards officers. An online petition might be the answer in this situation.

Growler says:

I have a nice little Samsung Laser Printer (Samsung printers are now run by HP) which I brought with me when I moved country. I was more than willing to pay double for Genuine Samsung toner over the 3rd party non-Genuine variant. I was surprised to find that the Genuine Samsung print cartridge – which has exactly the same part number – does not work in my printer due to region coding. BUT THE NON-GENUINE DOES.

So guess what… Samsung/HP will never make another dollar out of me for this printer due to their region coding. They are punishing customers who want to use their genuine products… to their own detriment.

As an aside… I have now discovered that the non-genuine cartridges work fantastically, so a side effect of their stupidity is that they converted me from being a “genuine only” guy, to a “never again will I waste money on genuine” guy. And neither will any of my friends or family… I am converting everyone to the non-genuine dark side 😉

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