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EFF alleges Epson is ‘deceptive’

October 15, 2018

In a letter from the Senior Staff Attorney at EFF to the Texan Office of the Attorney General, EFF warns about Epson upgrades that disable third-party ink cartridges.

Penned by Mitchell L. Stoltz and dated 10 October 2018, the letter, sent to the Texas AG’s Consumer Protection Division, says, “It has come to our attention that Epson (a company best known for its printers and accompanying inks) may be engaging in misleading, deceptive or anticompetitive behaviour, to the detriment of Texas consumers.”

In particular, EFF explained that it had received reports from consumers, including a resident Texan, that Epson had “issued firmware updates to prevent owners of Epson printers from using third-party ink supplies.”

These firmware updates seem to have begun in “late 2016 or early 2017”. Sent via the Internet, these updates “change the software embedded in the printer, thereby changing the behaviour of printers after they have been purchased.” Generally beneficial, and capable of fixing issues or bolstering printer security, these updates can also have a more negative impact, by restricting “a printer’s functionality.”

Once the firmware update has been installed, “affected Epson printers will only recognise and accept new Epson-brand ink cartridges.”

Stoltz wrote, “It is not clear that customers were informed when buying an Epson printer that their ability to use third-party ink options could or would be later disabled. Moreover, it does not appear that Epson informed customers when it sent the firmware update that it would disable third-party alternatives to Epson cartridges.” 

As a result, Stoltz explained, “Epson’s conduct may therefore be misleading or deceptive within the meaning of the Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act.”

The letter goes on to state that “Disabling third-party ink options has a detrimental impact on both Texas consumers and third-party ink manufacturers”, forcing customers to pay “higher prices” while being denied the “added convenience” of being able to opt for third-party ink cartridges.

Stoltz writes that, as well as having a negative impact on consumers, the firmware updates also “threatens harm to the security of the Internet” as consumers may choose to avoid firmware updates altogether.

The letter concludes by urging the Texan Consumer Protection Division to “investigate Epson’s advertising, firmware updates, and other practices with respect to disabling third-party ink options”, and, if warranted, to “bring an action under section 17.47, or, at the very least, to seek an assurance of voluntary compliance under section 17.58.”

Epson is not the first OEM to receive condemnation – even legal action – for its firmware updates, with HP Inc famously finding itself in hot water more than once in recent years for its own updates that disable third-party cartridges.  

 

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