A hot potato: Printer ink cartridges have long been notoriously expensive, and printer manufacturers use DRM to keep users from buying cheaper third-party versions. HP is still paying settlements to customers over how it deployed its DRM years ago, but the practice shows no sign of ending soon.
Consumer group Euroconsumers recently reached a settlement with HP in which the printer manufacturer will pay up to $1.35 million to customers in four European countries over its enforcement of ink cartridge DRM in 2016. HP already agreed to similar pay-outs to customers on other continents.
The trouble started when a firmware update for some of HP’s printers caused them to refuse ink cartridges from companies other than HP, identified by the lack of HP’s DRM chips. The DRM can also tell if a used HP cartridge has been refilled. Third-party ink tends to be cheaper than “official” cartridges from printer companies that operate under a razor-and-blade model to recoup costs from selling cheap printers.
Claims against HP emerged because many users were unaware of the DRM until after their cartridges stopped working. HP apologized and initially removed the DRM. However, it reappeared in 2017, and HP continues to sell printers with DRM.
The company had to compensate users in Australia over the surprise DRM in 2018, paying out AU$50 each for a total likely exceeding AU$100,000. A US class-action lawsuit accused HP of “underhanded” tactics and anticompetitive behavior in 2020.
The Euroconsumers settlement lets customers in Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Portugal who owned certain HP printers between September 1, 2016, and November 17, 2020, receive up to 95€ in compensation. Customers must submit a claim before March 6, 2023, with a possible three-month extension.
Canon uses similar methods to force its cartridges onto users of its printers. As an unintended side-effect of the pandemic supply chain shocks, the company couldn’t manufacture enough DRM chips for its cartridges, forcing it to let customers circumvent the DRM in January.
Ink cartridge DRM will likely persist in the long run despite the settlements. To avoid further accusations of deceit, HP is more up-front about its DRM nowadays, describing it in the fine print on product pages and FAQs.