Canon Sued For Disabling Printer Scanners When Devices Run Out Of Ink

from the sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept

For more than a decade now, computer printer manufacturers have been engaged in an endless quest called: "let's be as annoying as humanly possible." That quest, driven by a desire to monopolize and boost the sale of their own printer cartridges, has resulted in all manner of obnoxious DRM and other restrictions designed to make using cheaper, third-party printing cartridges a monumental headache. Often, software or firmware updates have been designed to intentionally grind printing to a halt if you try to use these alternative options.

Beyond that, there are other things printer manufacturers do that make even less sense if a happy customer is the end goal. Take for example Canon's history of disabling the scanning and faxing functionality on some printer models if the printer itself runs out of ink. It's a policy designed to speed up the rate at which users buy expensive cartridges (god forbid you go a few months just scanning things without adequate levels of magenta), but it's exemplary of the outright hostility that plagues the sector.

And now Canon is facing a $5 million lawsuit (pdf) for its behavior. The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York (first spotted by Bleeping Computer) claims Canon fails to adequately disclose the restrictions to consumers:

"Canon does not represent or warn consumers that ink is a necessary component in order to scan or fax documents. As a result, consumers are forced to incur unexpected and unnecessary burden and expense in the form of ink purchases or in the alternative be unable to scan or fax documents using the so-called all-in-one device. Canon knew, or should have known, that its representations and advertisements regarding the All-in-One Printers were false and misleading, and that they failed to disclose material information."

There's no technical reason for such restrictions as they pertain to scanning and faxing. But like most restrictions of this type, when consumers complain, they're (falsely) informed it's a product safety issue of some nebulous kind. See, for example, this Canon customer service response to one user who complained he could no longer scan when he ran out of ink (notice how he doesn't answer the actual question and keeps the focus on printing):

"These precautions are in place to prevent damage to the printer from occurring if printing with no ink is attempted. The printer uses the ink to cool the printhead during the printing process. If no ink is present, the printhead could be damaged or the unit would require service."

Again, being a misleading jackass to goose printer cartridge sales is not a cogent business strategy. And the fact this kind of stuff just keeps happening decade after decade showcases not only the ineffectiveness of class actions as a meaningful behavior shifting tool (of course binding arbitration has become arguably worse), but the overall fecklessness of U.S. regulators who generally lack the resources to properly police dodgy behavior at the scale it happens in the U.S.

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Filed Under: business models, ink, printer, scanner, scanning
Companies: canon


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 6:20am

    I'm personally shocked.

    To be honest, I found Canon printers extremely reliable (as in, they lasted the longest and don't seem to break down on me for the longest time), so this is shocking to me that they'd do an anti-consumer move like this. But I guess if the claims of the lawsuit are true, then even a company like Canon has their Achilles' Heels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lostinlodos (profile), 20 Oct 2021 @ 10:14pm

      Re: I'm personally shocked.

      I’ve always liked Samsungs (pre-2016) and Brother. Indestructible!
      I have a Samsung xPress going on, I lost track how many years. That’s been abused to hell and back. Dust. Dirt. Grime. Grit. As in literally concrete dust. Damn thing still prints 30+ pages a minute!

      Canon is reliable but the ink is a bit of a pain in the arse. Like Xerox.
      Why get a machine that prints 30…40…ppm+ but runs out of ink after 200 pages yet sell a 250 page feeder?
      🤦‍♂️

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 6:23am

    Why I don't run out of ink

    Also, I have this policy of having a spare ink cartridge on standby should my printer run out of ink and buy another one (usually at Staples) after I swap them out. I think that's why I never seem to have the plaintiff's problem.

    That's not to say the plaintiff is without merit, though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 6:46am

    Other functions could be connected to ink

    If out of ink need to disable

    • Copy function
    • receive/print fax

    So, rather than disable just the Copy function they disable the whole scanner.
    The engineering choice was...
    Put extra effort in to separating the scan/copy functions... Costs money
    Disable both Scan/Copy thereby forcing customer to buy ink... Makes money

    Guess which they chose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 6:48am

    I've avoided all-in-one printer-scanners for various reasons, this is one. Given my usage, they have quite different live-cycles. I have scanned hundreds of old books for Project Gutenberg, so I used about 10 different scanners over the last 20 years, and just 3 printers, always laser printers because inkjet require too much care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 9:32pm

      Re:

      Plus, the cheapest Canon printer plus the cheapest Canon flatbed scanner is cheaper than buying Canon’s cheapest all-in-one, and that cheapest scanner offers four times the scan resolution of the cheapest all-in-one’s scanner.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:04am

    Some vendors, hi Epson, put expiration dates on the cartridges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      ... and then they program the firmware to tell the user to replace the cartridge(s) based on time passed, not ink used. This is especially depressing when you can easily determine that the cartridges have some (or a lot of) ink left in them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 9:37am

      Re:

      It's a way to turn printers into a source of rental income.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:08am

    another shitty example of copyright! this is designed so customers have to buy the expensive Canon ink cartridges instead of 'look alike' ones, for a fraction of the price! if using these alternative cartridges damages a printer, it should be the owners choice, not Canon's! if the 'genuine' cartridges were a sensible price insteadof x10 what they need to be just so Canon and other manufacturers can make a massive profit, people would by them, wouldn't they!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 8:33am

      Re:

      This has nothing to do with copyright laws.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Scote, 19 Oct 2021 @ 8:39am

        Re: Re:

        You would think, but printer makers have used both copyright law and patent law to try to make it difficult or impossible for 3d parties to make less expensive replacement printer cartridges.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 8:53am

        Re: Re:

        ... but it has everything to do with the DMCA prohibiting "circumvention of digital protections".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 6:01pm

        Re: Re:

        Give it time. It wouldn't surprise me if at some point down the line, Canon figured out a way to get the RIAA to write in as an amicus curiae. Alternatively the RIAA could write in anyway because they have to have a finger in every damn pie.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:33am

    "These precautions are in place to prevent damage to the car from occurring if window wiping with no fluid is attempted. The car uses the fluid to wet the windshield during the driving process. If no fluid is present, the windsheild could be damaged or the car would require service." - On why your car radio refuses to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 8:36am

    New in box 4 in 1

    Looking at HP Officejet 3830 box i see more printing about ink than features.

    This ink scam will never go away. After reading the whole pdf of the lawsuit I can only say, good luck.

    On principle I should setup the HP Officejet 3830 but it is not worth the hassle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 9:41am

      Re: New in box 4 in 1

      This ink scam will never go away.

      One can, however, opt out by using laser printers instead. If you know how to connect via USB, and maybe how to set up CUPS to export it as a Wi-Fi printer, you can get them for 5-10 dollars at thrift stores (just verify that toner is still sold, or the printer includes enough). People are throwing them out because Google's Chrome OS dropped support for most old printers.

      Still, don't buy even laser all-in-ones without some research. There's no reason they'd be immune from the can't-scan-without-consumables scam.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 19 Oct 2021 @ 8:43am

    The other great thing they do is clearing the print heads every time you start up the printer. Canon and Epson both seem to do this. Not only wasting ink, but wasting time waiting for the fucking printer to be ready. Infuriating. At least with my HP it just starts right up. Of course, they want you to buy their overpriced "Instant Ink". No thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      Really annoying that they clean all the color heads even though your printing black text only, (separate cartridge).

      But infuriating that it when you're just starting it up to scan something!

      My current set of Epson cartridges have already used up 25% of the color cartridges without having ever printed a color page!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:11pm

        Re: Re:

        Really annoying that they clean all the color heads even though your printing black text only, (separate cartridge).

        But infuriating that it when you're just starting it up to scan something!

        They can't really win with this. If they skipped the cleaning in those cases, people who didn't print color (or anything) for a year would be bitching that the printer had let its ink dry up, just to screw people into having to buy more. Ideally, the printer would sense whether the cartridge needed cleaning, or would use a timer, but inkjet technology does kind of suck in general.

        (Better photo quality than lasers; if you're not doing photos, go with a laser. Consider outsourcing your photo-printing, if you can live with the 1990s-style lack of privacy.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2021 @ 9:31am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn't make them money so it's not going to happen.

          We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2021 @ 10:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn't make them money so it's not going to happen.

            Of course. Installed cartridges need to be cleaned, but there's no reason for a lack of cartridges to prevent scanning (or sending faxes). I hope Canon loses this lawsuit (and instead of just eating the $5 million, actually changes their behavior).

            We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

            Yes! It baffles me that there's no such thing. Proprietary printer firmware is what started the entire Free Software movement in the 1980s, after all. The EFF's warning of tracking dots should've revived interest in that. Or the current multifunction ink/toner bullshit, or the related DRM previously, or the refusal to copy money.

            Printers are easy to get for free, and have network access, and so little security research has been done (and so few people update firmware) that it's got to be really easy to get root on them. There must be a lot of software reuse, too. The difference from OpenWRT, though, is that we don't know that printer manufacturers are using GPL'ed software. OpenWRT (and related projects) started when Cisco was forced to release the source code of the WRT54G, and I don't think we've ever seen printer source releases.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      hegemon13, 19 Oct 2021 @ 12:40pm

      Re:

      "Instant ink"

      I will say, with my wife being a teacher, the instant ink program is a huge savings overall. However, that only applies to people who will regularly hit at least 50 pages per month of printing (their minimum-sized plan), which is not very many people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 12:52pm

        Re: Re:

        I will say, with my wife being a teacher, the instant ink program is a huge savings overall.

        That does not mean she is not being overcharged for ink.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 9:44am

    And the fact this kind of stuff just keeps happening decade after decade showcases not only the ineffectiveness of class actions as a meaningful behavior shifting tool …

    How do you figure? This lawsuit hasn't failed yet. Is the concern about the ridiculously small claim of $5 million? Or were there already other class-action suits about this that didn't change Canon's behavior?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 10:23am

    Capitalists suck donkey balls

    ...as I've said somewhere before, capitalists suck donkey balls, but capitalism doesn’t have to. (Adam Smith said something similar in 1776.)

    The issue is disclosure. If the printer vendors clearly disclosed what the customer is getting, they'd (a) drive customers to other vendors who'll treat them better and (b) be so embarrassed for their reputation that they'd stop this.

    Regulators need to enforce disclosure and prohibit misleading claims, not specify what vendors must offer. Unfortunately, they don't.

    FWIW, this is why I switched from Canon to Brother (and lately Epson) years ago. Neither is perfect, but they're better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 11:16am

    This is nothing new!

    From my old Brother scanner/printer/fax counting the number of pages passed through, instead of actual depletion, to force you to buy new toner cartridges and drums when they still were okay. (There were hardware hacks found to bypass these scams).

    To the fact that many inkjets have always refused to print black text only documents when ANY color cartridge is low or removed, even if set on the printer to B&W print only.

    As an engineer I was repeatedly asked by sales managers to design equipment that required ongoing supplies that customers could only get from us because "we make more profit on the supplies than the machine. (I refused on principle but told them it was pointless because someone else would jump in to make knockoff supplies, which is true.)

    These people just won't learn that the bad PR from these scams cost them more than the profits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 12:17pm

    I played the inkjet game once. Cheap Epson printer spent more time and ink cleaning the head then printing. Still had banding several times. When the final cartridge fouled up, pitched the thing. My HP 1200 Laserjet is 20 years old and still working. Don't print a lot, self test shows 7028 pages. It can sit for weeks and be printing good pages in a matter of seconds.

    Sad thing is that if you watch the sales, you can often get a decent laser printer for not much more then an inkjet + a spare set of cartridges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:18pm

      Re:

      Sad thing is that if you watch the sales, you can often get a decent laser printer for not much more then an inkjet + a spare set of cartridges.

      Or watch your local curbs and thrift stores. I see 1 or 2 a year just sitting outside for garbage day, sometimes in front of my own apartment building. In all likelihood, they'll still be less trouble than an inkjet, if they haven't been rained on. And like breadmakers and slow-cookers, laser printers are a staple at the local thrift store.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 12:25pm

    lets see.

    Seen printers that if 1 color is out, it wont print as it uses all the colors to create Black.
    Seen printers that when Color of black runs out it wont print, and Wont let you Swap to another color Just to get the print out.
    Seen the scanner problem.
    Seen the ink DRY UP in the heads and ruin the printer.
    Seen XL cartridges that are supposed to have more ink, NOT have more Ink.

    Then there was the BIS system, which Finally got out of court and Won. Where you can replace the ink with External LARGER ink packages, that cost the Same or cheaper, but hold 10 times the ink.

    Anyone that has a printer SHOULD print 1 full color page per week. As the ink will dry in the cartridges and in the print heads.
    Then the big one. If you dont Buy paper in Bulk, its not worth buying.

    $5 million? For the price we pay for the ink? It should be 10 times that price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 19 Oct 2021 @ 12:27pm

    It's not "going digital" that has contributed to the death of printing, but the nickel and diming to death of customers who just don't want to deal with printer manufacturers and their abusive printer supply scams.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brad, 19 Oct 2021 @ 2:10pm

    This is terrible news for my UK teen band Hacking Tools

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2021 @ 2:16pm

    I will never again buy an ink jet printer. If I ever need a printer again, it will be laser.

    I've had it with the expensive ink cartridges. Before they put DRM in the cartridges, I'd fill them myself. $20 in ink would keep me in printing for months and months. Their schemes to sell high priced ink have reached the point that they've lost a customer that will never return.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 19 Oct 2021 @ 3:29pm

    U.S. regulators

    who generally lack the WILLPOWER to properly police dodgy behavior at the scale it happens in the U.S. - FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 19 Oct 2021 @ 7:41pm

      Re: U.S. regulators

      .... who generally l̶a̶c̶k̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶W̶I̶L̶L̶P̶O̶W̶E̶R̶ "accept donations" in order to NOT properly police dodgy behavior at the scale it happens in the U.S.

      And, fixed that for you. ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 19 Oct 2021 @ 3:55pm

    It is behaviour like this that has completely driven me out of the inkjet printer market. I will never buy another inkjet printer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2021 @ 9:37am

      Re:

      Do you really believe lasers don't play the same game? I have a laser that refuses to print because of "Low toner" when the cartridge is still half full! And says I need a new drum when it still works fine.

      Same companies make lasers and inkjets so they run the same scams!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 20 Oct 2021 @ 10:17pm

    Shades of IBM?

    You know, I had a late 70s IBM electric typewriter. Had memory, 3 line display, disk drive, the whole bloody kit!
    Run out of ribbon?
    Useless. Ignore the fact that the floppy disk could store files. Display them. Etc. It was a doorstop without a new ribbon.

    Same old shite, just a new day!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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