Paper-towel dispenser with a EULA prohibiting rival brands of paper

John Overholt from Harvard's Houghton Library spotted a paper towel dispenser whose prominent EULA prohibits refilling it with non-Tork brands of towels, with Tork vowing to "enforce its rights under applicable laws and agreements."

This is basically the plot of Unauthorized Bread, the first story in my new book Radicalized, where toasters use vision-systems to verify that their users are not trying to toast non-manufacturer-compliant bread.

However, there is a difference between products like this stupid paper towel dispenser and other products that try to bind their customers to buying only certain brands of consumables. If you put someone else's paper towels in this towel dispenser, Tork would have to prove that you had violated a contract with them (for example, you might be a tenant in a commercial building whose landlord had promised Tork only to use its towels, but you never made that promise, and depending on your lease, your landlord may or may not be able to force you to honor its agreements).

But with digital products, all that the manufacturer has to do is add a "technical protection measure" (that is DRM) that checks to ensure that you're using the product in ways that benefit the manufacturer's shareholders (even if that makes the product worse for your purposes). Because breaking the DRM is illegal, and because "trafficking in DRM-breaking tools" is also illegal, you're not allowed to defeat that measure, even if it works really poorly and is easy to bypass.

Thank Section 1201 of 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act for this absurdity: though the law stipulates that the "technical protection measure" has to control access to a "copyrighted work" that won't help you — even though paper towels are not copyrighted, the software that checks which brand of paper towel you're using is.

This has allowed manufacturers to expand DMCA 1201 into a system of private law, where thwarting their commercial plans constitutes "Felony Contempt of Business Model" (and DMCA 1201 provides for 5 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for a first offense of trafficking in circumvention devices).