Your toner is no good here: region-coded ink cartridges… for the customers

of the all-ink-must-provide-evidence-of-naturalization.-that-is-all. dept

Everyone likes to buy stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things that we “own” often remain at least partially the property of the manufacturers. It’s the compromise we never asked for—one that’s been foisted on us by everyone from movie studios to manufacturers of high-end litter boxes and coffee makers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary package building blocks work until there are manufacturer-approved refills.

Here’s some more ridicule, via techdirt reader techflaws. German news agency c’t Magazin reports that Xerox printers go beyond the normal limitations we’ve become accustomed to. For years, printer manufacturers have ensured that users’ printers will not run without having every slot filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling all features (including non-ink related features like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed.

Xerox goes even further. Not only do you have to refill the ink, you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywall article in German.

Xerox uses region coding on its toner cartridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) cartridge you can no longer use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe). The printer’s display does NOT show this and the hotline does not know anything about it. When c’t approached Xerox, the marketing drone claimed this was done to better serve customers, no kidding.

Ah, the old “serve the customer better by limiting their options,” as seen everywhere, everywhere, everywhere DRM/DRM-like restrictions are applied.

But even though c’t magazine only recently stumbled across this edition of region-locked ink cartridges, it’s by no means one New Output. Techflaws also references a 2011 forum post from a user who encountered this issue with their Xerox printer.

I’ve seen hundreds of posts regarding ink being rejected based on place of purchase. I’m assuming Xerox is doing this to discourage buying ink not made by them. However, it is ABSURD to force a client to pay for a service for a snippet that needs to be installed in order to use the printer.

I switched from HP to Xerox because I thought it was a trusted name. What I’ve learned instead is that when trying to protect against counterfeiting, the paying customer gets a non-working printer — with no help, unless you’re willing to pay for the printer to work the way it was originally designed should .

So it seems that if you try to force-fed ink to a Xerox printer that isn’t from here, the device might stall. At this point, you are forced to ask a Xerox representative to come by and unlock your purchased printer for you. Here’s another confirmation of Xerox’s “locals only” ink restrictions.

As I live in the UK my ink blocks are for the European market. When I buy ink blocks on ebay for the US or Asian market and put them in my printer, the printer stops with a touch of your technician code on the LCD. The printer is now unusable.

The rate billed to the person in the forum post cited above was $596/hour. There is no decimal point missing. Sure, it’s only 10 minutes of work, but it’s $60 that a paying customer will shell out just to get their printer to print again. The only thing that is actually “broken” is Xerox’s business model.

This person notes that they switched from HP to Xerox because the latter was said to be more trustworthy. Apparently not. Printers are not a business. You are a thug. HP is no better than Xerox. It will also lock your printer to a specific region to make sure receive only the best customer service Buy only the most economical ink cartridges.

When it comes to data, HP likely pioneered the bullshit that is region-locked ink. This is from a 2005 Slashdot post. (The internal link to the Wall Street Journal is dead, so it was omitted.)

Looks like printer cartridge manufacturers are borrowing techniques from Hollywood. HP has introduced region coding for some of the latest printers sold in Europe. HP’s location in the US and the US dollar’s slide mean that cartridge prices in Europe are significantly higher than in the US. In the Wall Street Journal article, HP’s European representative claims that the company is not making any money regionally coding cartridges and that consumers will win once the US dollar strengthens against the euro.

Incredibly, the rep says that customers “win” when something HP can’t control (exchange rates) moves in customers’ favour. Why not just say consumers are better off when those scratch cards are winners? Or when the housing market recovers and the dorm housing the HP printer is back in the black?

How much have consumers “won” since 2005?

In January 2005 (when the post appeared on Slashdot) the exchange rate was 1.312 ($$ to Euro). A decade later, the exchange rate is 1.162. The dollar has strengthened, but this change is unlikely to have a significant impact on the price of “European” ink (wtf even, HP, Xerox, et al – ink is ink). Thanks for the investment tip, HP PR.

Almost every major printer manufacturer is involved in the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase sales and staked that territory in 2004. In this brave new world of customer duping, Lexmark, Canon, Epson, and Xerox followed—none of whom saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to specific regions.

Region coding for DVDs and video games makes some sense, provided you’re willing to make a small logical buy-in for window releases. But ink? It’s not like Australians have to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges to avoid sabotaging the US release. The sole reason for doing so is to tie paying customers to the most expensive ink and toner. This bond is cemented by the refusal of many printers to honor third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow cartridges from existing manufacturers to be refilled.

The excuses for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren’t so overtly dismissive of customers. Any flowery ode to clients’ best interests through PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, “Fuck ’em. It’s not like they have a choice.”

Filed under: drm, ink cartridges, region coding, toner

Companies: Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, Xerox

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