Empty Epson "professional" inkjet cartridges are still 20% full

If you've wondered why it matters that the Internet of Things is being born with the inkjet printer business model, here's why.

Your Epson professional printer will refuse to print more pages when it senses that your ink-levels have dropped below 1%. However, when Bellevue Fine Art sliced open those allegedly empty cartridges (which retail for $1465 as a set) they discovered that as much as twenty percent of the ink remained.

Back in 2002, the Lexmark, a division of IBM sued a company that was refilling its toner cartridges. Lexmark had used DRM to detect whether the cartridge had been refilled, and the competitor, Static Controls, figured out how to bypass this. Since section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes bypassing "an effective means of access control" for copyrighted works, and since the DRM itself was composed of copyrighted software, Lexmark argued that SCC was breaking the law. Section 1201 carries both civil and criminal liability, with first offenses punishable as felonies by up to five years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

The Federal Circuit thought this was bullshit. The judge said that the DMCA existed to prevent piracy, not competition, and since the only copyrighted work the DRM was protecting was itself, there was no there there, and Lexmark lost.

That was in 2004. 11 years later, something funny has happened to toner cartridges: they've gotten a lot smarter. Off-the-shelf controllers for disposable consumables like cartridges (and smart lightbulbs, and a thousand other IoT gewgaws) have real, no-fooling copyrighted works -- sometimes whole operating systems.

The companies that have come to rely on DMCA 1201 include John Deere (its tractors' wheel-sensors collect centimeter-accurate soil-density maps that it keeps secret from farmers and monetizes by using to predict regional crop yields ahead of the market); GM (who use DRM on engine diagnostic data to lock out third party mechanics who might buy parts from its competition), as well as companies that make voting machines, insulin pumps, implanted defibrillators and pacemakers, mobile devices, and many, many others.

It's the whole IoT. The computers that control the buildings and cars and airplanes we entrust our bodies to. The medical implants and prostheses we attach to (or put inside) our bodies.

The Epson case is not an aberration. It's not a coincidence that a company that can put its competitors in jail "accidentally" used shitty sensors that add a 20% premium to its $1465 consumables. If you create a law in which the government offers to spend an unlimited number of tax-dollars defending abusive business models, you should expect abusive business models. To do otherwise isn't just naive, it's criminal.

They found that, on average, a 700 ml cartridge still contains about 100ml of ink when you’re forced to replace it. Many times they contain 150 ml or more. For a 350 ml cartridge, 60-80 ml of ink was left.

...Bellevue Fine Art says it has contacted Epson numerous times about this issue, but they haven’t been able to get anywhere with the corporation. The hope now is that Epson will see this video and take action.

“Epson needs to do a better job of ink measurement in their 9900 series printers,” writes the printing company. “We throw away hundreds of dollars of ink every month.”

This is How Much Ink the Epson 9900 Printer Wastes [Michael Zhang/Petapixel]


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