Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit group vowed to protect digital privacy, posted a letter on Oct. 5 highlighting that Epson has been issuing software updates to its printers to reject third-party ink cartridges.
The issue was raised by an EFF supporter from Texas. The author of the letter, Cory Doctorow, also the editor of blog Boing Boing, told ITWC that Epson has been distributing these updates to users as early as of late 2016 and early 2017.
Battles between original and aftermarket toner manufacturers have persisted for ages. Printer manufacturers don’t make much money on the printer themselves, instead, they rely on the ink cartridges for profits.
The markup prices for official toners are often astronomical. According to Consumer Reports, printer ink can range anywhere between $13 to $95 an ounce.
The high retail cost of printer ink spurred a flurry of aftermarket ink cartridges. They’re easy to purchase and often more affordable than the original, causing users to abandon ink from the OEM.
Epson isn’t the first printer manufacturer to try and shut down third-party ink cartridges. Back in 2016, HP received massive backlash for imposing DRM on its ink cartridges disguised as a software update, eventually forcing it to revert the change and issue an apology.
Also in 2016, Lexmark sued Impression Products, a third-party company that makes and recycles toner cartridges, for infringing its patents. The lawsuit reached all the way up to the Supreme Court – where Lexmark lost.
In early 2017, HP once again tried to push out a suggested firmware update that blocked aftermarket toners for its OfficeJet printers. For reasons unknown, it also offered a firmware that disabled the blocking feature.
In closing, Doctorow emphasizes the dangers of capability-restricting updates as it teaches users to ignore security updates and leave vulnerabilities unpatched.