HP Is Once Again Breaking Printers With Third-Party Ink Cartridges

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Last year, HP pushed a stealth firmware update that started killing printers that used ink sold by third-party vendors. The company took considerable fire for the move, particularly since it had distributed the lockout as an invisible trigger in a previous firmware update. Roughly six months after the last firmware update had been installed, multiple HP printers suddenly stopped working, claiming they had been filled with the incorrect ink cartridge. Of course, the “correct” ink cartridge happened to be for branded ink you buy directly from HP, at vastly inflated prices.

Last year, everyone blew up about this and HP sensibly stopped doing it, though the company announced that it reserved the right to start again — because nothing beats pissing off your customers for a second time in a row. The company has started again, because if you’re going to reserve the right to piss off your customers, why wouldn’t you use it? The firmware update it’s pushed out to re-enable cartridge lockouts will once again tell you you’re using the wrong ink:

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HP does still offer a printer driver that doesn’t activate this lockout. But it’s a manual download you can grab, rather than one the company is pushing. I have to admit, it’s a clever workaround. Instead of giving anyone the freedom to use printer ink they select themselves, HP locks you out of the device by default, then gives technically proficient users the option to sneak back in. Of course, you’re not meant to know that — and HP is well aware that most office managers will just buy more ink. If they can’t get ink to work properly from a third-party, they’ll purchase it elsewhere. Especially in this day and age, when most printers offer plug-in-and-it-works functionality, people aren’t likely to think of a print driver as containing a DRM scheme or the means to bypass one.

There’s a huge range of affected models, though all appear to be OfficeJet Pro printers. HP has published instructions for its driver update method, available here. If your system has already been locked out by the firmware update, the newer driver may be your only option. We recommend blocking any automatic update feature baked into your printer, to avoid this happening in the future.

Alternately, you may want to consider another printer company altogether. HP clearly isn’t going to back down from this kind of lockout, and the company isn’t going to stop pushing DRM solutions, either. There may be a driver available now, but don’t be surprised if that download gets “deprecated” at some point, or simply isn’t updated to support newer printers.

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