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September 22nd, 2016

HP Retrofits Ink Cartridge DRM on Printers

You’ve owned your printer for a year or more, and have happily used off-brand ink cartridges during that time. Suddenly the manufacturer says you can’t do that anymore, and suddenly orders the printer you own to not accept the ink cartridges of your choosing.

Have you tried using you HP printer recently? If not, if you use certain models and keep your expenses down by using third party ink cartridges, you might find you have a “damaged” cartridge that needs replacing before the printer will operate. Open up a new cartridge that you’ve been keeping on hand and if it’s branded Office Max, Office Depot or anything other than “genuine HP,” it’ll be “damaged” too.

HP printer logoAs they used to say on the Outer Limits, there is nothing wrong with your ink cartridges. HP has taken control of your printer and trained it to not accept them anymore.

It seems that HP rolled out a firmware update for certain of it’s printers back in March with a DRM-like time release surprise, so that on September 13 the affected printers would reject any cartridge that doesn’t contain a “genuine HP” chip. HP’s rationale? “We sold you the damn printer at less than cost so we could make money selling you ink, so you’re damn well going to buy the ink from us.”

Those words are mine, of course, but they pretty well sum it up.

As far as FOSS Force has been able to determine, the only printers affected so far are Officejet Pro 6830, 8610, 8615, 8620, 8625, 8630, 8640, 8660, x451dn, x451dw, x476dn, x476dw, x551dw, and x576dw — but that’s subject to change. Right now, if I owned an HP printer not affected — and I do — I wouldn’t buy a case of off-brand cartridges, at least not without the understanding that I might get stuck with them.

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t have enough fingers and toes to figure it out.

Pre installed DRM (Is that the right term? Is an ink cartridge digital?) on a brand new in-the-box printer you’re carrying out the door at the local Best Buy store is bad enough — but at least you presumably knew at the cash register that saving money by buying Office Depot cartridges is a no-go and that before the printer dies and meets its maker you’re going to get well acquainted with the little blue dot decorated with the letters “HP.”

Even that should be illegal. The machine became your property the minute the cash registrar printed out a receipt, and you should be allowed to void your warranty by doing whatever you want with it.

But what HP did went well beyond that.

Taking away the function after the sale would seem to border on what’s actually criminal instead of just what I believe should be criminal. This would seem to be a case of HP messing with property that’s not theirs to mess with — a real what-gives-them-the-right scenario. It’s vandalism.

There are broader implications. I fear that more of this is what we can expect from the Internet of Things.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

24 comments to HP Retrofits Ink Cartridge DRM on Printers

  • Tyler Olson

    Do we know how this little gem get loading into our printers?

    If this comes in some sort of driver update, we may have EULA’ed ourselves into this, without recourse.

    Doesn’t really surprise me, though- this is the company that makes you buy more yellow ink when you run out of cyan or magenta.

  • jymm

    I have a HP Photosmart C6300. It has NEVER had anything than an HP cartridge in it. Yet every time I load a NEW HP cartridge it tells me it is non-HP or broken or damaged. It usually takes about a half hour of screwing around to get a new cartridge working, and then an existing one that was fine starts telling me it is missing, damaged or non-HP.

    I called HP and complained about this and their story was they never heard of these kind of problems with their printers. Obviously they were lying. I don’t know if I would ever buy another HP. Printer.

    One thing I do like about HP is the seriously support Linux.

  • juan

    How this firmware gets change? Some Windows update thing? If that is the case i’m in the clear

  • Mike

    I’d be interested in how the firmware gets updated as well…

    If it’s on Windows, meh. Surely by now anyone visiting a FOSS site should know you get what you deserve if you run Windows or OSX.

    DRM needs to be outlawed. It is evil in every sense of the word.

    Boycott any product using DRM.

  • Mike

    This also brings up an important point: While we can now run an entire operating system and all application software using only FOSS, when it comes to the world of hardware and firmware we are currently screwed really bad.

    It is virtually impossible to find a platform to run your FOSS which is not fundamentally compromised by non-free firmware and hardware. Since it sits at the bottom of the stack it can subvert or lock out any and all freedom granted by the FOSS above. Mainstream systems like Intel and AMD are completely hopeless, and yet get whitewashed by misleading projects like Purism’s Librem laptops which do not grant the freedom they promise. This is a huge problem and one that is not helped by the plethora of system manufacturers that claim “open source”, and yet are fatally flawed by CPU’s, bootloaders, gpu’s, bluetooth and wireless firmware that are NOT OPEN. I am speaking about systems like CHiP, Odroid, Raspberry Pi, etc. These manufacturers and others mislead people into thinking these systems are open. They are not. If these people were honest, they’d draw attention to the parts of the system that are not open so perhaps customer demand could play a part in fixing the situation, but all they do is add to the confusion and deception with misleading claims.

  • Sebastian Makowiecki

    Just a quick one to say thanks for your reat articles Christine, appreciate it very much.

  • Mark Guest

    Can you tell us the names of those printer companies who does not follow this practice and respect consumer ownership?

  • Richard

    My choice, is to never buy anything HP again.
    My future printers will be dot matrix instead of laser.
    Ribbon cartridges don’t contain any electronics, yet.

    Granted that will not affect HP much since I’ve only bought 2 lasers and 2 inkjets in the last 8 years, but it eases my anger at this gross injustice. Ranks up there with the barbarous price increase of EpiPens.

  • Richard Holt

    My choice, is to never buy anything HP again.
    My future printers will be dot matrix instead of laser.
    Ribbon cartridges don’t contain any electronics, yet.

    Granted that will not affect HP much since I’ve only bought 2 lasers and 2 inkjets in the last 8 years, but it eases my anger at this gross injustice. Ranks up there with the barbarous price increase of EpiPens.

  • “you should be allowed to void your warranty by doing whatever you want with it.”

    This is true, but it’s also true that the things companies say void your warranty actually don’t. “Warranty void if removed” stickers are not legally binding; you are legally allowed to have your hardware serviced by a third party. It’d be hard to make a legal case for using another company’s ink cartridge as voiding a warranty, too.

    “There are broader implications.”

    There are indeed, and there’s one I don’t see nearly enough people talking about in the wake of this, the Windows 10 update fiasco, and others:

    Companies are teaching their customers that security updates are bad, and you can’t trust them.

    I believe this has huge long-term ramifications, and they’re bad for everybody. MS, HP, et al are teaching people not to trust security updates, and when people don’t install security patches, that’s bad for everybody.

  • Mike

    @Thad

    You are right, of course.

    The even bigger point that is likely ignored by most users is that closed source ANYTHING is bad for EVERYBODY.

  • slu

    From a brief perusal of google results, it looks like updates are possible only for certain models and then, only at the time of installation,if a user of HP Web Service, or if downloaded or installed by the user. Google your printer for updates and determine if it is a potential victim of this HP mischief. If you use HP’s web services, stop now and do not download or install any printer updates. If it works, it works…don’t mess it up with updates. If it is a security concern, get the damned thing off the web.

  • Lost at sea

    Next step is to follow in John Deere’s footsteps: you don’t “buy” a Deere tractor, you merely use it and Deere still owns it after you’ve paid for it. All you pay for is “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

    https://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/

  • Mike

    Despite what the DMCA and other stupid U.S. laws say:

    If I buy a product and it comes with software, that software now belongs to me. I can do anything I like with it.

    If as a manufacturer you don’t like that, then don’t bundle your crap with hardware. Release open specs and allow competing implementations.

  • Tyler Olson

    I understand (and even agree with) your frustration, but how is holding that belief going to make the non-HP ink cartridges work again?

  • Mike

    If we removed the stupid laws, then companies couldn’t cry fowl when people bypassed their stupid DRM.

    In the meantime, don’t buy from (the unfortunately large number of)companies that pull crap like this.

    Also, don’t buy into the “web connect printer” bullshit and the “automatic ink replacement” programs these companies are foisting on unsuspecting people.

    Some alternatives exist, but you have to look.

  • Buy Brother printers. Great Linux support and work well with 3rd party inks.

  • Steve

    I stopped buying HP printers years ago when they quickly increased their prices on replacement ink and toner cartridges. I prefer Brother’s printer products now, both for my own use and as a recommendation to my friends, family and clients.

  • Appaljack

    Thanks for the info. I do have an affected printer but I rarely print anything anyway so they make nothing off me anyway. Still using the ones in the box. I would much rather work with electronic pdf’s and rtf’s on my tablet or phone.

  • Fred

    This is one of the reasons I’m sticking with my 22-year-old LaserJet 4L for as long as possible. Ironically, Linux doesn’t seem to support it anymore while Windows 10 does.

  • tracyanne

    @Appaljack
    September 23, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    [[[[I would much rather work with electronic pdf’s and rtf’s on my tablet or phone.]]]]

    Yes all my documents are electronic, I haven’t owned a printer for the last 10 years.

  • Mike

    You can usually find printers on sale for $30-50.

    Just sell the old printer for $10-15 when ink runs low and buy a new one.

    Yes it’s insane, but it actually works. I’ve noticed companies are starting to get wise to this and some now bundle printers with very small ink cartridges.