Every few years, HP pushes a DRM update to its printers, blocking the use of third-party ink cartridges. This sends customers into a rage, triggering a class-action lawsuit and a big settlement payout. But million-dollar lawsuits can’t keep HP from its DRM addiction.
Modern HP printers use something called “dynamic security” to detect and block unofficial ink carts. Third-party manufacturers often find ways to get around this DRM, and as a result, many HP customers grow accustomed to unofficial ink.
But HP can update a printer’s dynamic security to patch workarounds. And this is where the problem lies—customers will spend months or years using unofficial ink carts, only to turn on their printer one day and see “Non-HP Chip Detected.” HP’s website mentions that this may occur, though customers are never warned ahead of time.
As explained by Ars-Technica, HP has paid several million dollars in class-action lawsuits related to its printer DRM. In a U.S. lawsuit, plaintiffs characterized an HP update as “malware,” arguing that HP altered the functionality of printers to make up for declining sales.
The nature of the printer industry is pretty well known at this point. If someone buys a printer, they’ll spend the next few years buying ink and toner cartridges. So, printers are sold at a loss to reach an ultra-competitive price. There’s just one downside to this business model—if all of your customers buy third-party ink, your printer business won’t make any money!
So, HP’s aggressive DRM isn’t much of a surprise. The only customers who will get angry are the ones using third-party ink carts. Some of these customers will give in and buy official ink. And if a customer throws their HP printer in the trash, it’s not a loss—that’s one less customer for the “unofficial” ink brands.
Note that this isn’t just an annoyance to customers. It’s also an environmental problem. Ink and toner cartridges contain harmful chemicals and valuable materials, including gold. We don’t need to be dumping this stuff into landfills, and I’d love to know how this factors into HP’s sustainability pledge.
We’re still trying to figure out which printers are affected by this DRM update. According to one customer, an HP representative says that “all” printers received an update. Ars-Technica found complaints for several printers, including the OfficeJet 6978 and 6968, which are discontinued. Clearly, HP targeted a lot of printers with this DRM update.