Canon Tells Customers to Break Its Printer Cartridge DRM Due to Chip Shortage

In Europe, the printing giant showed customers how to circumvent restrictions on printer cartridges.
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Image: Getty Images.

The semiconductor shortage may have claimed another victim: Digital Rights Management in printer toner cartridges. First spotted by Boing Boing, Canon’s European website is instructing customers on how to bypass its Digital Rights Management (DRM) protocols so people can keep printing. The reason, according to a post on Canon’s website, is that the semiconductor shortage has made it impossible to keep manufacturing toner cartridges with built-in DRM.

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DRM in ink cartridges is a long-running strategy printer companies use to force customers to pay unnecessarily high prices to replace depleted ink cartridges. HP, Epson, Canon, and Lexmark have all experimented with different ways of making people buy more ink before they absolutely have to. HP will remotely kill perfectly good printer cartridges unless users buy into its $4.99 a month “InstantInk” service. For years, third parties have offered a much more reasonable solution: Simply bypass the DRM and refill your cartridges with ink yourself, for a fraction of the price. 

Now, because of chip shortage, Canon has no choice but to tell its customers to do something similar. Crucially, and as consumers and digital rights activists have been pointing out for ages, Canon essentially admits that its own DRM is absolutely not necessary, writing that “there is no negative impact on print quality when using consumables without electronic components.” The explanation in full:

“Due to the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor components, Canon is currently experiencing challenges in procuring specific electronic components that are used in our consumable products for our multifunction printers (MFP),” it said. “These components perform such functions as detecting remaining toner levels. To ensure you enjoy a continuous and reliable supply of consumables, we have chosen to supply consumable products without the semiconductor component until normal supply resumes. While there is no negative impact on print quality when using consumables without electronic components, certain ancillary functions, such as the ability to detect toner levels, may be affected.”

Below the post is a list of instructions for specific Canon printers and how to bypass its DRM restrictions. Typically, Canon toner cartridges come with chips inside them that communicate with your printer. These chips come with hard-coded page limits that prevent a user from running a toner cartridge dry. Instead, after the limit’s reached, it tells the printer to stop printing until it's replaced.

These instructions only appeared on Canon’s European sites. Canon did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.