Skip to comments.Red alert! It's the great printer refill rip-off (Lexmark suit, FREEP THIS POLL)
Posted on 02/03/2003 8:33:38 AM PST by newgeezer
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|Red alert! It's the great printer refill rip-off
By David Coursey, AnchorDesk
February 2, 2003 9:00 PM PT
Consumers and digital-rights advocates have a lot at stake in a lawsuit that, at first, seems fairly simple. It's the battle between printer giant Lexmark International (the bad guy) and little Static Control (the good guy) over the right to manufacture Lexmark-compatible printer supplies.
The two companies are scheduled to square off Feb. 7 in a Lexington, Ky., federal courtroom. But while the issue seems at first to be about printer cartridges, it could impact how many other items are designed and manufactured.
HERE'S THE GIST: Lexmark recently began building a small computer chip into each of its replacement toner cartridges. Without that chip, the printer won't work. This tactic is supposed to ward off companies like Static Control that manufacture aftermarket cartridges.
Static Control responded by creating its own version of the Lexmark chip, which allows its replacement cartridges to (once again) work in Lexmark printers. On Dec. 30, Lexmark filed suit against the company, claiming the Static Control chips violate its copyright on the intellectual property each chip contains.
One reason this case matters is the economics of the printer industry. The business model for printers is the same as the model for TiVo, cell phones, and even razor blades. In each case, the hardware itself is sold below market value (even below cost sometimes), and the "consumables" (monthly fees, airtime minutes, razors, or, in this case, toner and ink cartridges) provide the ongoing profits.
That model explains why printer cartridges cost so much. (Don't believe me, go over to ZDNet Shopper and check the prices there. We're talking $50 to $100 for toner cartridges, $20 to $50 for ink refills.)
Those prices, in turn, explain why companies like Static Control--whose main business is making those antistatic plastic bags that electronics parts come in--can make a buck selling knock-off replacement cartridges. (In many cases, the third parties collect, refill, and sell used original equipment cartridges).
I DON'T LIKE this business model. For one thing, I think it distorts the marketplace. Printer manufacturers get people in with a cheap up-front offer and then charge them an arm and a leg once they're hooked. Who hasn't looked at a $50 bag of OEM inkjet cartridges and not felt ripped off? Higher, more realistic prices for printers, coupled with a more competitive supplies market, would be better for consumers.
Then there's the environmental angle. The European Union has already blocked the use of chips in printer cartridges, claiming that their use increases the number of such cartridges that end up in landfills. The chips, in other words, are an environmental threat.
The chips have also spawned another creative use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That law was originally intended to curb the copying of movies and music. But in December, Lexmark filed a DMCA claim against Static Control, saying that the latter's chips circumvented the measures Lexmark had taken to protect its intellectual property.
If this legal strategy is successful, how long will it be until all sorts of products include small chips just to head off competitors? If you can imagine a world in which the only parts we could buy for our cars came from the original manufacturers, and were priced accordingly, you get the idea.
I'm not in favor of Lexmark, or anyone else, losing control of its intellectual property. But I do think printer cartridges should be fair game for competition. That might eventually force real world pricing on an industry that today seems more drug pusher (get 'em hooked and make 'em pay!) than high-tech.
This case also gives us yet another reason to revamp the DMCA, this time with closer attention to preventing unforeseen applications like this.
Which side are you on? Does Lexmark have the right to keep other companies out of its printer-supply business? Or should we have access to printer supplies from other vendors? Take my QuickPoll above and TalkBack to me below!
"I DON'T LIKE this business model. For one thing, I think it distorts the marketplace." BS! What "distorts" the marketplace is the growing pile of nanny government regulations that prevent consumers from making their own informed decisions. Some of us DO LIKE to buy printers cheaply (or free after rebate) with little or no intent of ever buying any of their proprietary, overpriced ink cartridges. ;-)
The environment, as usual, is the edge of the wedge for the nanny state.
Automobile manufacturers tried this many years ago by claiming the right to sell replacement parts, tires, etc.
They lost and Lexmark will lose. It is a violation of anitrust laws and is "restraint of trade".
It does not have to be a "Monopoly" to be "restraint of trade".
Works for me! If that's the cheapest way to arrange ink in specific patterns on paper, that's the way to do it!
That was your first mistake, and it was easily avoidable.
Lexmark ALSO has some OTHER type of chip in it that will cause your cartridges to STOP working after xxx amount of print jobs or xxxx amount of time. ( I have TWO half full cartridges now, black and color. And at $32-$36 each, they will hit the burn pile as I go to buy ANOTHER brand printer.)
>>>That was your first mistake, and it was easily avoidable.
Lexmark does not advise that you must buy replacement parts from only them before you buy their printer.
That is another violation of anti-trust law.
It is called a "tying arrangement" ---Where you must buy something you do not want in order to get something you do want.
PS I recently bought an 'off brand' cartridge to replace our black ink. So far, so good and it was 33% cheaper than HP. They also state on the package that using it would not invalidate your warranty.
Cyan, Magenta, and Black not endangered at this time.
Pardon me, but no one attempted to "force" me to buy a Lexmark printer. When I bought a printer, I took 20 minutes and checked the prices and availability for cartridges for it before buying it and made my decision accordingly. Caveat Emptor.
Call the Federal Trade Commission and tell them exactly what you wrote here and file a complaint because you cannot use what you bought.
Let the Feds fight this fight. It is Restraint of Trade.
It is also fraud to sell something that is only partially useable.
They can only act if they have complaints of specific acts and evidence to support the complaint. Keep the cartriges so you can demonstrate what you claim.
I don't think there's any question that reverse engineering firmware for profit is illegal.
Let the consumer inform himself, and decide which printer is best for him. As for me, I'm happy for the opportunity to buy a new Lexmark printer complete with black and color cartridges for less than the price of the replacement cartridges (sometimes free after rebate).
It's no different than if a manufacturer introduces a new gun that uses proprietary bullets. The buyer need only look at the price of bullets before he buys the gun. If he doesn't like that "business model," he's free to buy a competitor's gun that uses standard bullets. Freedom. What a concept!
But if this business model is protected by the courts, and adopted; then the road is paved for American and foreign car companies to use this technology to sell gas at whatever price they deem appropriate. By the car at below market value, and be 'locked' into a particular brand of gas at any price per gallon is deemed fitting. Failure to pay the 'extortion' means that property you OWN will not function, not because of incompatability of materials, but due to intentional 'sabotage' built into the technology.
In the free market system, which I support, you can buy your consumables anywhere you like, from anyone. If you want Lexmark ink, because it lasts longer, or prints better; they can charge more and some people will buy it. If it's inferior to another company's ink; they will be forced to eithe improve their product or fall aside; like any other 'real world' business. The difference boils down to 'Open Market' vs 'Closed Market'.
So, find a printer that accepts the fluid of your choice. If no one makes it, and you're convinced there's a market for it, start your own printer company.
...anyone who perceives the market is not served well enough by the current crop of players is free to start up his own company, and the consumers will come a-runnin'.
I agree, reverse engineering for profit is wrong. However, intentionally 'sabotaging' a product to prevent competition is wrong too. When you purchased your printer, were you warned that refills were technologically prevented from working, unless you bought Lexmark ink? There is nothing wrong with the materials, or the function of the competition. Competition has been prevented from working by 'technological sabotage'. Compare this to your car. If you install a new tire, should the tire cause your engine to refuse to start?
Well, since they were giving it away for free, I kind of assumed that there was a catch.
But I'm not stuck with anything. I can pitch that Lexmark out with the morning trash and get a new printer delivered the next business day, if the cost of replacement cartridges is not to my liking.
And that is your response to technolgical sabotage? I should deal with the extortion, or go start my own company?
I was wondering how they were planning on getting around the "home-refill" kits. This is going to kill Lexmark as more and more people switch to digital photography. The photo-grade color injet printers use so much ink that there are aftermarket bulk ink supply kits. Literally jars of ink, attached to the print head via plastic tubes attached to modified ink cartridge bodies.
A shutdown circuit will only send people in search of some other company's printer. If *all* printer manufacturers adopt that scheme, people will devise a way around it.
What, you can't look around for consumables and price them on your own before you buy the printer?
I guess we expect the government has by now regulated everything so completely that no one will ever again fall victim to the old lesson formerly known as "live and learn". The School Of Hard Knocks is officially closed. Caveat emptor no longer applies. This is America, where consumers are no longer burdened with personal responsibility.
What's to stop them? Almost all new printers from all manufacturers are built and sold like this.
Really? It's only because Compaq reverse-engineered IBM's BIOS that we have ridiculously cheap computers today. Reverse engineering should not be illegal. If you buy a product, you should be able to examine it.
It is Lexmark that needs to learn that their business model is moronic. In a free market it would never work; they're trying to use the DMCA as a protectionist weapon to eliminate competition.
That's their right. Since only an idiot would buy their car for regular use, they'd lose millions on the experiment. In a few cases a person might choose to buy a nice car for a cheap price and only drive it occasionally, preventing the car manufacturer from recovering the initial loss. Ultimately, I believe it's a bad business model if people actually think before making purchases.
Has the price of replacement cartridges skyrocketed since you first bought your printer? Or, did you just neglect to inform yourself of the cost of consumables back then?
or go start my own company?
Yeah. Isn't America great?!
Um, Lexmark is the one demanding that the government "meddle" by suppressing their competition. If the third-party cartridges don't work well, then the free market will cause them to fail. But consumers should have that choice.
Remember your argument when the issue of Microsoft and alleged market abuse comes up. The 'big picture' of this should frighten you. You are championing a 'closed market' approach. Not surprisingly 90+% of the population does not support the 'closed market' approach.
For many users of Lexmark printers it's more indirect than that. Many Lexmark printers are sold as part of a new pc package--pc, monitor, printer, maybe some other peripherals, all at one attractive low price. Only after you get the system home do you realize that it's gonna cost $70 to replace cartridges. Meanwhile, the printers are selling for $40 on ebay. The printers really are a giveaway item so far as Lexmark is concerned. Many owners will feel foolish (and environmentally rapacious) at the idea of throwing away a perfectly good printer. So they grit their teeth and buy the overpriced refills. It's a pretty despicable business model. I guess I'll support their right to charge what they want for their merchandise, but I'll never buy another item with the Lexmark name on it.
Investigate your purchase before you take the plunge. Check the price of consumables. Read product reviews online, both from owners and trade publications.
Vote YES. Stop advancing the nanny state.
And here we have the basic disagreement. I do not feel that "That's their right" because I OWN IT. If the printer were leased, rented or loaned to me; I would agree with you. But the fact remains that someone paid for it, if they undercharged for it, that is the manufacturer's fault, NOT the consumer's. If I OWN something (meaning I paid for it out of my earnings), I should be able to print with vegetable oil if I desire. I may plug stuff up and ruin my property, but then it would be my fault. To intentionally shut off MY PRINTER is to sabotage MY PROPERTY. It's also an issue of property rights.
Well, that's pretty silly. If the printer in not economically competitive, get rid of it! It's not like you name your printers or anything!
...I'll never buy another item with the Lexmark name on it.
I would dare say that 90% of Lexmark owners never bought anything with a Lexmark name on it!
In this case, I don't think so. That applies to a case where, for instance, you CANNOT buy a PC without also buying Windows, even though you have no need or use for that OS.
However, in this case, you CAN get away without ever buying a replacement ink cartridge. You always have the option of buying another printer instead. In the meantime, you can watch OfficeMax and Staples ads for the coveted free- or dirt-cheap-after-rebate printers (which come fully equipped with new cartridges).
Now, if you REALLY want to be exasperated, buy any Xerox laser copier or printer which comes with only a "starter" toner cartridge. You get maybe 500 or 1000 pages before you get to plunk down $100 for your first "real" one. Just wait 'til the inkjet mfrs. get wind of this! ;-)
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