Canon Sued For Disabling Printer Scanners When Devices Run Out Of Ink

from the sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept

For more than a decade now, computer printer manufacturers have been engaged in an endless quest called: “let’s be as annoying as humanly possible.” That quest, driven by a desire to monopolize and boost the sale of their own printer cartridges, has resulted in all manner of obnoxious DRM and other restrictions designed to make using cheaper, third-party printing cartridges a monumental headache. Often, software or firmware updates have been designed to intentionally grind printing to a halt if you try to use these alternative options.

Beyond that, there are other things printer manufacturers do that make even less sense if a happy customer is the end goal. Take for example Canon’s history of disabling the scanning and faxing functionality on some printer models if the printer itself runs out of ink. It’s a policy designed to speed up the rate at which users buy expensive cartridges (god forbid you go a few months just scanning things without adequate levels of magenta), but it’s exemplary of the outright hostility that plagues the sector.

And now Canon is facing a $5 million lawsuit (pdf) for its behavior. The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York (first spotted by Bleeping Computer) claims Canon fails to adequately disclose the restrictions to consumers:

“Canon does not represent or warn consumers that ink is a necessary component in order to scan or fax documents. As a result, consumers are forced to incur unexpected and unnecessary burden and expense in the form of ink purchases or in the alternative be unable to scan or fax documents using the so-called all-in-one device. Canon knew, or should have known, that its representations and advertisements regarding the All-in-One Printers were false and misleading, and that they failed to disclose material information.”

There’s no technical reason for such restrictions as they pertain to scanning and faxing. But like most restrictions of this type, when consumers complain, they’re (falsely) informed it’s a product safety issue of some nebulous kind. See, for example, this Canon customer service response to one user who complained he could no longer scan when he ran out of ink (notice how he doesn’t answer the actual question and keeps the focus on printing):

“These precautions are in place to prevent damage to the printer from occurring if printing with no ink is attempted. The printer uses the ink to cool the printhead during the printing process. If no ink is present, the printhead could be damaged or the unit would require service.”

Again, being a misleading jackass to goose printer cartridge sales is not a cogent business strategy. And the fact this kind of stuff just keeps happening decade after decade showcases not only the ineffectiveness of class actions as a meaningful behavior shifting tool (of course binding arbitration has become arguably worse), but the overall fecklessness of U.S. regulators who generally lack the resources to properly police dodgy behavior at the scale it happens in the U.S.

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Comments on “Canon Sued For Disabling Printer Scanners When Devices Run Out Of Ink”

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63 Comments
Samuel Abramsays:

I'm personally shocked.

To be honest, I found Canon printers extremely reliable (as in, they lasted the longest and don’t seem to break down on me for the longest time), so this is shocking to me that they’d do an anti-consumer move like this. But I guess if the claims of the lawsuit are true, then even a company like Canon has their Achilles’ Heels.

Lostinlodossays:

Re: I'm personally shocked.

I’ve always liked Samsungs (pre-2016) and Brother. Indestructible!
I have a Samsung xPress going on, I lost track how many years. That’s been abused to hell and back. Dust. Dirt. Grime. Grit. As in literally concrete dust. Damn thing still prints 30+ pages a minute!

Canon is reliable but the ink is a bit of a pain in the arse. Like Xerox.
Why get a machine that prints 30…40…ppm+ but runs out of ink after 200 pages yet sell a 250 page feeder?
🤦‍♂️

Anonymoussays:

Other functions could be connected to ink

If out of ink need to disable

  • Copy function
  • receive/print fax

So, rather than disable just the Copy function they disable the whole scanner.
The engineering choice was…
Put extra effort in to separating the scan/copy functions… Costs money
Disable both Scan/Copy thereby forcing customer to buy ink… Makes money

Guess which they chose.

Jeroen Hellingmansays:

I’ve avoided all-in-one printer-scanners for various reasons, this is one. Given my usage, they have quite different live-cycles. I have scanned hundreds of old books for Project Gutenberg, so I used about 10 different scanners over the last 20 years, and just 3 printers, always laser printers because inkjet require too much care.

Anonymoussays:

another shitty example of copyright! this is designed so customers have to buy the expensive Canon ink cartridges instead of ‘look alike’ ones, for a fraction of the price! if using these alternative cartridges damages a printer, it should be the owners choice, not Canon’s! if the ‘genuine’ cartridges were a sensible price insteadof x10 what they need to be just so Canon and other manufacturers can make a massive profit, people would by them, wouldn’t they!

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

"These precautions are in place to prevent damage to the car from occurring if window wiping with no fluid is attempted. The car uses the fluid to wet the windshield during the driving process. If no fluid is present, the windsheild could be damaged or the car would require service." – On why your car radio refuses to work.

Anonymoussays:

Re: New in box 4 in 1

This ink scam will never go away.

One can, however, opt out by using laser printers instead. If you know how to connect via USB, and maybe how to set up CUPS to export it as a Wi-Fi printer, you can get them for 5-10 dollars at thrift stores (just verify that toner is still sold, or the printer includes enough). People are throwing them out because Google’s Chrome OS dropped support for most old printers.

Still, don’t buy even laser all-in-ones without some research. There’s no reason they’d be immune from the can’t-scan-without-consumables scam.

Pixelationsays:

The other great thing they do is clearing the print heads every time you start up the printer. Canon and Epson both seem to do this. Not only wasting ink, but wasting time waiting for the fucking printer to be ready. Infuriating. At least with my HP it just starts right up. Of course, they want you to buy their overpriced "Instant Ink". No thanks.

Anonymoussays:

Re:

Really annoying that they clean all the color heads even though your printing black text only, (separate cartridge).

But infuriating that it when you’re just starting it up to scan something!

My current set of Epson cartridges have already used up 25% of the color cartridges without having ever printed a color page!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Really annoying that they clean all the color heads even though your printing black text only, (separate cartridge).

But infuriating that it when you’re just starting it up to scan something!

They can’t really win with this. If they skipped the cleaning in those cases, people who didn’t print color (or anything) for a year would be bitching that the printer had let its ink dry up, just to screw people into having to buy more. Ideally, the printer would sense whether the cartridge needed cleaning, or would use a timer, but inkjet technology does kind of suck in general.

(Better photo quality than lasers; if you’re not doing photos, go with a laser. Consider outsourcing your photo-printing, if you can live with the 1990s-style lack of privacy.)

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:

Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn’t make them money so it’s not going to happen.

We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn’t make them money so it’s not going to happen.

Of course. Installed cartridges need to be cleaned, but there’s no reason for a lack of cartridges to prevent scanning (or sending faxes). I hope Canon loses this lawsuit (and instead of just eating the $5 million, actually changes their behavior).

We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

Yes! It baffles me that there’s no such thing. Proprietary printer firmware is what started the entire Free Software movement in the 1980s, after all. The EFF’s warning of tracking dots should’ve revived interest in that. Or the current multifunction ink/toner bullshit, or the related DRM previously, or the refusal to copy money.

Printers are easy to get for free, and have network access, and so little security research has been done (and so few people update firmware) that it’s got to be really easy to get root on them. There must be a lot of software reuse, too. The difference from OpenWRT, though, is that we don’t know that printer manufacturers are using GPL’ed software. OpenWRT (and related projects) started when Cisco was forced to release the source code of the WRT54G, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen printer source releases.

Anonymoussays:

And the fact this kind of stuff just keeps happening decade after decade showcases not only the ineffectiveness of class actions as a meaningful behavior shifting tool …

How do you figure? This lawsuit hasn’t failed yet. Is the concern about the ridiculously small claim of $5 million? Or were there already other class-action suits about this that didn’t change Canon’s behavior?

Anonymoussays:

And the fact this kind of stuff just keeps happening decade after decade showcases not only the ineffectiveness of class actions as a meaningful behavior shifting tool …

How do you figure? This lawsuit hasn’t failed yet. Is the concern about the ridiculously small claim of $5 million? Or were there already other class-action suits about this that didn’t change Canon’s behavior?

OldMugwumpsays:

Capitalists suck donkey balls

…as I’ve said somewhere before, capitalists suck donkey balls, but capitalism doesn’t have to. (Adam Smith said something similar in 1776.)

The issue is disclosure. If the printer vendors clearly disclosed what the customer is getting, they’d (a) drive customers to other vendors who’ll treat them better and (b) be so embarrassed for their reputation that they’d stop this.

Regulators need to enforce disclosure and prohibit misleading claims, not specify what vendors must offer. Unfortunately, they don’t.

FWIW, this is why I switched from Canon to Brother (and lately Epson) years ago. Neither is perfect, but they’re better.

OldMugwumpsays:

Capitalists suck donkey balls

…as I’ve said somewhere before, capitalists suck donkey balls, but capitalism doesn’t have to. (Adam Smith said something similar in 1776.)

The issue is disclosure. If the printer vendors clearly disclosed what the customer is getting, they’d (a) drive customers to other vendors who’ll treat them better and (b) be so embarrassed for their reputation that they’d stop this.

Regulators need to enforce disclosure and prohibit misleading claims, not specify what vendors must offer. Unfortunately, they don’t.

FWIW, this is why I switched from Canon to Brother (and lately Epson) years ago. Neither is perfect, but they’re better.

Anonymoussays:

This is nothing new!

From my old Brother scanner/printer/fax counting the number of pages passed through, instead of actual depletion, to force you to buy new toner cartridges and drums when they still were okay. (There were hardware hacks found to bypass these scams).

To the fact that many inkjets have always refused to print black text only documents when ANY color cartridge is low or removed, even if set on the printer to B&W print only.

As an engineer I was repeatedly asked by sales managers to design equipment that required ongoing supplies that customers could only get from us because "we make more profit on the supplies than the machine. (I refused on principle but told them it was pointless because someone else would jump in to make knockoff supplies, which is true.)

These people just won’t learn that the bad PR from these scams cost them more than the profits.

tomsays:

I played the inkjet game once. Cheap Epson printer spent more time and ink cleaning the head then printing. Still had banding several times. When the final cartridge fouled up, pitched the thing. My HP 1200 Laserjet is 20 years old and still working. Don’t print a lot, self test shows 7028 pages. It can sit for weeks and be printing good pages in a matter of seconds.

Sad thing is that if you watch the sales, you can often get a decent laser printer for not much more then an inkjet + a spare set of cartridges.

Anonymoussays:

Re:

Sad thing is that if you watch the sales, you can often get a decent laser printer for not much more then an inkjet + a spare set of cartridges.

Or watch your local curbs and thrift stores. I see 1 or 2 a year just sitting outside for garbage day, sometimes in front of my own apartment building. In all likelihood, they’ll still be less trouble than an inkjet, if they haven’t been rained on. And like breadmakers and slow-cookers, laser printers are a staple at the local thrift store.

ECAsays:

lets see.

Seen printers that if 1 color is out, it wont print as it uses all the colors to create Black.
Seen printers that when Color of black runs out it wont print, and Wont let you Swap to another color Just to get the print out.
Seen the scanner problem.
Seen the ink DRY UP in the heads and ruin the printer.
Seen XL cartridges that are supposed to have more ink, NOT have more Ink.

Then there was the BIS system, which Finally got out of court and Won. Where you can replace the ink with External LARGER ink packages, that cost the Same or cheaper, but hold 10 times the ink.

Anyone that has a printer SHOULD print 1 full color page per week. As the ink will dry in the cartridges and in the print heads.
Then the big one. If you dont Buy paper in Bulk, its not worth buying.

$5 million? For the price we pay for the ink? It should be 10 times that price.

Anonymoussays:

I will never again buy an ink jet printer. If I ever need a printer again, it will be laser.

I’ve had it with the expensive ink cartridges. Before they put DRM in the cartridges, I’d fill them myself. $20 in ink would keep me in printing for months and months. Their schemes to sell high priced ink have reached the point that they’ve lost a customer that will never return.

Anonymoussays:

Re: New in box 4 in 1

This ink scam will never go away.

One can, however, opt out by using laser printers instead. If you know how to connect via USB, and maybe how to set up CUPS to export it as a Wi-Fi printer, you can get them for 5-10 dollars at thrift stores (just verify that toner is still sold, or the printer includes enough). People are throwing them out because Google’s Chrome OS dropped support for most old printers.

Still, don’t buy even laser all-in-ones without some research. There’s no reason they’d be immune from the can’t-scan-without-consumables scam.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Really annoying that they clean all the color heads even though your printing black text only, (separate cartridge).

But infuriating that it when you’re just starting it up to scan something!

They can’t really win with this. If they skipped the cleaning in those cases, people who didn’t print color (or anything) for a year would be bitching that the printer had let its ink dry up, just to screw people into having to buy more. Ideally, the printer would sense whether the cartridge needed cleaning, or would use a timer, but inkjet technology does kind of suck in general.

(Better photo quality than lasers; if you’re not doing photos, go with a laser. Consider outsourcing your photo-printing, if you can live with the 1990s-style lack of privacy.)

Anonymoussays:

Re:

Sad thing is that if you watch the sales, you can often get a decent laser printer for not much more then an inkjet + a spare set of cartridges.

Or watch your local curbs and thrift stores. I see 1 or 2 a year just sitting outside for garbage day, sometimes in front of my own apartment building. In all likelihood, they’ll still be less trouble than an inkjet, if they haven’t been rained on. And like breadmakers and slow-cookers, laser printers are a staple at the local thrift store.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:

Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn’t make them money so it’s not going to happen.

We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or they could just let the machine operate only as a scanner when no cartridges are installed, or operate as a B&W printer when no color cartridges are installed. But that doesn’t make them money so it’s not going to happen.

Of course. Installed cartridges need to be cleaned, but there’s no reason for a lack of cartridges to prevent scanning (or sending faxes). I hope Canon loses this lawsuit (and instead of just eating the $5 million, actually changes their behavior).

We need an open source software solution for printers like OpenWRT is for routers so we can make them work the way WE want, not the way they want.

Yes! It baffles me that there’s no such thing. Proprietary printer firmware is what started the entire Free Software movement in the 1980s, after all. The EFF’s warning of tracking dots should’ve revived interest in that. Or the current multifunction ink/toner bullshit, or the related DRM previously, or the refusal to copy money.

Printers are easy to get for free, and have network access, and so little security research has been done (and so few people update firmware) that it’s got to be really easy to get root on them. There must be a lot of software reuse, too. The difference from OpenWRT, though, is that we don’t know that printer manufacturers are using GPL’ed software. OpenWRT (and related projects) started when Cisco was forced to release the source code of the WRT54G, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen printer source releases.

Lostinlodossays:

Re: I'm personally shocked.

I’ve always liked Samsungs (pre-2016) and Brother. Indestructible!
I have a Samsung xPress going on, I lost track how many years. That’s been abused to hell and back. Dust. Dirt. Grime. Grit. As in literally concrete dust. Damn thing still prints 30+ pages a minute!

Canon is reliable but the ink is a bit of a pain in the arse. Like Xerox.
Why get a machine that prints 30…40…ppm+ but runs out of ink after 200 pages yet sell a 250 page feeder?
🤦‍♂️

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