Don’t Refill a Printer Ink Cartridge

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

Way back in the 1960s when I started helping out around my dad’s camera shop, I quickly learned what it was like to deal with people who had been ripped off elsewhere. In those days, there was a California company that manufactured a camera called the Fotron. It was innovative in several respects; however, it used proprietary film that had to be returned to the manufacturer to be developed at a very high price. A similar thing I saw at the camera shop was salesmen who came in peddling films that could only be developed in their laboratories, meaning that this was a way to lock in customers so that they could not take their business elsewhere. It always saddened me to see a customer come into my store with one of those products because it meant they had already been conned, and I had no solution to offer them.

A 21st century version of this scam is the oligopoly of manufacturers selling exorbitantly overpriced printer ink refills. Every computer user who ever bought a printer already knows that filling it with ink can cost as much or more than the printer cost in the first place. Some manufacturers have taken to adding computer chips to their ink cartridges, not to provide any real benefit to the consumer, but to protect the monopolistic ability of the company to sell stratospherically overpriced ink refills.

These smart computer chips added to ink complicate the process of refilling the cartridges. Consumers who try to save money by doing so can encounter nagging messages on their computer screen warning the cartridge is not original, and, sometimes, refilled cartridges will not work.

Hewlett-Packard recently carried this much too far with their Office-Jet printers, when they programmed driver software to kill the printer if the owner deigned to try using anything other than HP’s overpriced ink cartridges. Among others, this provoked the ire of the Electronic Frontier Foundation that wrote in strong terms denouncing this extreme breach of customer trust.

Using techniques that would do any virus or malware writer proud, HP last March sneaked software into customers’ systems deceitfully disguised as a security update. In reality this was a Trojan set to kill the printer in September if the customer was using “unauthorized” supplies.

By co-opting the security update system and using it to work against the best interest of its customers, HP has given millions of its customers good reason to mistrust any and all future security updates from Hewlett Packard. This puts those customers at risk of future infections from virus and malware.

And HP has tacitly signaled that it has the right to invoke Section 1201 of the 1998 US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it criminal to bypass controls that protect its printer software. I never thought I would see the day when I could risk the possibility of going to jail just for refilling a printer ink cartridge.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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