HP Launched Delayed DRM Time Bomb To Disable Competing Printer Cartridges
from the innovation! dept
For decades now, consumers have been lured into a sour deal: pay for a relatively inexpensive printer, then spend a lifetime paying an arm and a leg for viciously overpriced printer cartridges. As most have learned first-hand, any attempt to disrupt this obnoxious paradigm via third-party printer cartridges has been met with a swift DRM roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. In fact if there’s an area where the printer industry actually innovates, it’s most frequently in finding new, creative and obnoxious methods of preventing cartridge competition.
Hoping to bring this parade of awfulness to its customers at scale, HP this week unearthed the atomic bomb of printer cartridge shenanigans. HP Printer owners collectively discovered on September 13 that their printers would no longer even accept budget cartridges. Why? A firmware update pushed by the company effectively prevented HP printers from even detecting alternative cartridges, resulting in HP printer owners getting messages about a “cartridge problem,” or errors stating “one or more cartridges are missing or damaged,” or that the user was using an “older generation cartridge.”
As Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing notes, this behavior is simply par for the course, with Lexmark engaging in similar behavior back in 2003. By embedding an “I am empty” bit in their cartridges, they were similarly able to ensure that users couldn’t use third-party cartridges or they’d be told the cartridge lacked ink. Lexmark leaned heavily on Section 1201 of the DMCA to support its behavior, a tactic HP is likely to mirror but evolve:
“Lexmark invoked Section 1201 of the DMCA, which makes it a criminal and civil offense to bypass an “effective means of access control” for a copyrighted work. The DC Circuit court asked Lexmark which copyrighted work was being protected by its access control, and it argued that the checking routine itself was copyrighted, as well as the “Empty” bit. The court found that the DMCA could only be invoked where there was a copyrighted work apart from the access control, and that a single bit didn’t qualify as a copyrightable work. Lexmark lost.”
In this case, HP’s DRM time bomb firmware update was apparently deployed back in March, but HP didn’t activate the “improvement” until this month. And as is usually the case in this space, HP isn’t saying much outside of a misleading quote proclaiming the company was simply protecting its “innovations” and intellectual property:
“HP said such updates were rolled out “periodically” but did not comment on the timing of the last instalment.
“The purpose of this update is to protect HP’s innovations and intellectual property,” it said in a statement.”
But rejoice! HP claims that users can still refill cartridges, as long as those cartridges contain an HP-approved security chip:
“These printers will continue to work with refilled or remanufactured cartridges with an original HP security chip. Other cartridges may not function.”
Well, at least until HP figures out a way to DRM the printer fluid itself, which surely can’t be too far along on the horizon.