HP Inc Backtracks On Its Controversial Printer Lockdown

September 29, 2016, 10:06 AM UTC
Hewlett-Packard To Cut 9,000 Positions
SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 01: Packages of HP ink cartridges ares displayed at a Best Buy store June 1, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Hewlett-Packard Co. announced today that they plan to cut 9,000 jobs over several years as they invest $1 billion to automate data centers and make operational changes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

HP Inc caused a stir this month by causing its printers to reject some third-party ink cartridges, via the magic of a firmware update. Customers suddenly found themselves unable to print, and activists decried this latest outbreak of digital rights management, or DRM.

Now, HP (HPQ) has backed down, sort of. The company said in a statement that would soon issue an “optional firmware update” that would remove the feature blocking those unlicensed third-party ink cartridges from working in HP’s affected printers.

The affected models include HP’s OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro and OfficeJet Pro X printers.

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In the statement, HP Inc chief operating officer Jon Flaxman admitted the firm had fallen short on transparency, by not explaining why it had issued the controversial “dynamic security feature.”

Then he explained it. According to Flaxman, the feature that stopped so many people’s printers from working was intended to “ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our [intellectual property].”

The manufacturers of the cartridges in question use cloned versions of HP’s “security” chip, in order to make sure their cartridges can work in HP’s printers. Some third-party cartridges use the official chip thanks to licensing agreements with HP, and these never stopped working.

Flaxman said the new, optional firmware update would be ready within the next couple weeks, but he also said that HP intends to keep protecting its intellectual property using “authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working.”

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“However, we commit to improving our communication so that customers understand our concerns about cloned and counterfeit supplies,” he said. “Again, to our loyal customers who were affected, we apologize.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) activist Cory Doctorow, who caused a stink about HP’s lockdown earlier this week, said after the company’s reversal that it still had a lot to do to make things right.

The EFF’s open letter to HP, which had garnered 10,000 signatures by the time of the reversal, calls on the company not only to restore the printers’ full functionality, but to promise to never again “distribute software that artificially limits your products’ functionality.”