Why Investors Call any Business Dominated by a Tech Giant the “Kill Zone”

“Felony Contempt of Business Model”: Lexmark’s Anti-Competitive Legacy.

By Cory Doctorow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

In 2002, Lexmark was one of the leading printer companies in the world. A division of IBM—the original tech giant—Lexmark was also a pioneer in the now-familiar practice of locking customers in to expensive “consumables,” like the carbon powder that laser-printers fuse to paper to produce printouts.

Lexmark gave its customers the choice of paying extra for their cartridges (by buying refillable cartridges at a $50 premium), or paying extra for their toner (saving $50 on a cartridge whose “lock-out” chip prevented refilling, so that they would have to buy a whole cartridge when the non-refillable one ran dry). Customers, however, had a counteroffer for Lexmark: they wanted to save $50 on a “non-refillable” cartridge and then go ahead and refill it. After all, carbon is relatively abundant throughout the universe, and more locally, Earth has more carbon that it knows what to do with.

Various competitors of Lexmark stepped up to help its customers with their counteroffer. One such company was Static Control Components, which reverse-engineered Lexmark’s lock-out chip and found that its 55-byte program performed a relatively straightforward function that would be easy to duplicate: when a cartridge was newly filled, this chip signaled to the printer that the cartridge had available toner. Once the cartridge ran out, the chip would tell the printer that it had an empty cartridge. Refilling the cartridge did no good because the chip would still tell the printer that there was no toner available.

After Static Control performed this bit of reverse engineering, it was able to manufacture its own chips, which it sold to remanufacturers, who would pour in fresh carbon, swap out the chip, and sell the cartridges. Lexmark had a strong objection to this. But like every business, Lexmark’s products should be subject to market pressures, including the possibility that customers will make uses (and re-uses) of your product that aren’t exactly what the manufacturer intended. Lexmark was in a position to create its own refilling business to compete with Static Control, of course. But it didn’t want to. Instead, it wanted to trap purchasers into the lucrative two-tier market it had dreamed up.

Under a reasonable open market, that would have been the end of it: Lexmark would have either sucked it up and taken the losses at the margins from Static Control, or it would have gone into the refilling business and tried to outcompete them. But in 2002, Lexmark thought it had a third option: to have the pathway that Static Control took to create aftermarket competition declared illegal.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) into law. The DMCA was a comprehensive set of copyright changes occasioned by the advent of commercial Internet services. While the DMCA’s significance has only grown over time, one part, Section 1201, has become central to the story of competition, information security, and self-determination in digital technology, reaching far beyond the traditional copyright industries. And this overflow really begins with the dispute between Lexmark and Static Control.

DMCA 1201—the “anti-circumvention” rule—imposes a blanket ban on disabling or bypassing “access controls” for copyrighted works. In plain language, that means that you can’t override a manufacturer’s software locks on copyrighted works. Notably, DMCA 1201 does not limit itself to banning circumvention where copyright infringement takes place: if you remove or bypass a copyright lock to do something that is perfectly legal, like fair use or reverse engineering, you’re still in violation of DMCA 1201. What’s more, providing people with a tool to bypass a DMCA 1201 lock can sometimes be a criminal violation, a felony punishable by a five-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine (for a first offense!).

Originally, DMCA 1201 was used by companies that made products like DVD players and game consoles. For example, DVD players rely on “region coding” to stop people from buying DVDs in one country and watching them in another country. This isn’t a copyright violation (buying a licensed DVD and then watching it in your home is definitely not a copyright violation!), but it is a violation of the movie studios’ business models, which maximize profits by controlling when movies are released in different “territories.” Because bringing a DVD from one territory to another and watching it require that you somehow disable your DVD player’s software lock, the movie studios have been able to create a new kind of violation: Felony Contempt of Business Model.

So long as DMCA 1201 was only applied to a few niche devices like DVD and game players used to control access and copying of commercial entertainment products, it was at least contained. Lexmark, however, was determined to expand DMCA 1201 and avail itself of the right to sue competitors for contempt of its own business models. Lexmark’s lawsuit against Static Control made an unprecedented argument: that bypassing its lock-out chips was a violation of DMCA 1201.

At first, it’s hard to understand how this could work. The lock-out chips on a toner cartridge control access to fine carbon powders — not copyrighted works. How could a law that banned breaking copyright locks cover bypassing locks on carbon?

Lexmark had an answer: the copyrighted work in its toner cartridge was the 55-byte program in the lock-out chip, which also functioned as a password that enabled printing. Software is copyrightable, and so the copyrighted work that the lock was protecting was… part of the lock itself.

Happily, the court didn’t buy it. While the judges in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit acknowledged that software could be copyrighted, they found that a software program doesn’t trigger DMCA 1201 restrictions when it’s used as a password.

Time went by, and Lexmark fared just fine. Today, Lexmark is part of a conglomerate of companies that also includes Static Control, putting them both on the same side.

The underlying story of Static Control was once routine: once a company like Lexmark attained dominance, it would attract competitors who would find ways to erode that dominance by providing its customers with superior products at lower prices. The new entrants would rely on adversarial interoperability as their chief competitive weapon: that’s when a company makes a new product that works with another company’s existing products, against the established company’s wishes.

Unfortunately, Lexmark (now combined with Static Control) didn’t give up after the court refused to allow it to use section 1201 to block competition. It shifted its focus to patent law and tried to fight off new competitors with that intellectual property claim, rather than by making better products at better prices. It’s such efforts that led EFF to launch its patent-busting project, to help clear a path for competition in digital tools that benefit users.

Today, Lexmark’s legacy isn’t an object lesson in the ways that adversarial interoperability can fuel competition, lowering prices and improving products. Rather, it’s an early example of a ruthless campaign to dominate markets and see off competitors by invoking Felony Contempt of Business Model and various intellectual property regimes.

As the years have gone by, DMCA 1201 has only become more of a threat, despite the good legal precedent in Lexmark. That’s because other federal appeals courts have rejected the Lexmark precedent, holding that DMCA 1201 liability can attach no matter why the downstream user bypassed an access control, unless one of the narrow, temporary exemptions apply.

The first printer ink wars were fought with superior products, but today’s printer ink wars are being fought with dirty tricks and legal threats.

More than 15 years ago, the case Lexmark showed us that forcing companies to compete on price and quality created a vibrant market where no one could dominate forever. Today, that promise has not been kept. Between patents, unfair terms of service and copyright overreach, the dominant players no longer need fear upstart competitors wielding adversarial interoperability: instead, using one of these underlying legal theories, the incumbents can simply bring (or threaten) suit for Felony Contempt of Business Model and sue or scare off nascent competitors before they can even get started.

Is it any wonder that investors now call any business dominated by a Big Tech giant the kill zone, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to seize a market from a bloated tyrant? It started with printers, but it definitely hasn’t ended there. By Cory Doctorow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Facebook “cannot be left to its own devices, and existing enforcement authorities haven’t done enough.” Read… Facebook Got Caught Phishing for Friends

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  66 comments for “Why Investors Call any Business Dominated by a Tech Giant the “Kill Zone”

  1. Alex says:

    Somehow #DISRUPT never seems to apply to Google, Facebook, Apple, or any other company that identifies as “tech”.
    More like #DISRUPTflyovers.

  2. nick kelly says:

    Didn’t Keurig get in a similar fight (making the machine read the code on the coffee cup to stop competitors cup)

    But as I recall they lost.

  3. davie says:

    Really glad to see Cory on here.
    I started reading the article and got a vague feeling I was reading Boing Boing, then I looked up at the byline, and low and behold.

  4. 2banana says:

    Just like with health care, real estate and higher education too.

    The lesson seems to be – get government to destroy any competition rather than trying to win business through selling high quality products/services at affordable prices.


    “it’s an early example of a ruthless campaign to dominate markets and see off competitors by invoking Felony Contempt of Business Model and various intellectual property regimes.”

    • weinerdog43 says:

      Well, sort of. The lesson learned is that Corporate America can buy off the regulators and Congress to allow Corporate America to avoid existing anti trust law and regulations. Install a Supreme Court that never sides with the public, but rather with the large corporations (and it is always large as opposed to small corporations) and it is game; set; match.

      • HowNow says:

        Clearly this article shows corporate hijacking but 2banana sees government as the culprit. If you’re anti-government, you ignore corporate malfeasance and manipulation and use “government” as the whipping post, and bow down to the “free market”. It’s only free if you have the money to buy it off.

        • John Halliday says:

          There was a point where I computed that the Return on Investment (ROI) was far higher on buying the government than on any legitimate investments. Way back in like the 1990’s, I was reading about how the Southern Co. (the southern power conglomerate) made millions off of revised regulations that they spent a mere $100k on campaign contributions to obtain.

          This is true until they start sending people to jail for long stretches for bribery and corruption. In other words, always true in America. If you’ve got money, buying and rigging the government is the best way to get a lot more money.

        • rhodium says:

          Agree, just look at things like the Ludlow massacre and the stuff that went down during the labor movements before the government started mediating and applying rule of law more in favor of the citizens. Many of these large companies even today would have their paid mercenaries running about terrorizing anyone who opposed them. Oh, you want to out innovate me? How bout you have a little chat with my hired guns first… That would be the situation without good rule of law and there would also be no competition… The government can do things justly or unjustly, but in the case of corporations, greed generally causes them to do things unjustly. The voters are the ones that must hold their Representatives accountable though, if they want the government to function justly and ensure a competitive innovative business environment.

    • fajensen says:

      Here in Europe, the region code debacle killed the “local” DVD-player manufactures and let China into the market.

      There were a huge amount of interesting DVD’s not available in our region so people got them off Amazon and other places, then to play them on their “HiFi DVD Player Brand”, they get in this region code bullshit game, where one can set the code Only 3 times.

      The guaranteed to work method was to buy a Chinese brand DVD player.

      These things came with a cute little instruction on how to set the region code. Of course if one did not set it, the player would ignore the coding on the DVD and just happily play anything – as requested by it’s owner.

      The brands implementing working region coding came to be seen as defective by the customers, who noticed that the no-name stuff would Work, whereas their Sony, Phillips, B&O would not. So, they didn’t buy that brand again, of course.

      I think “they” gave up; I haven’t noticed anything that wouldn’t play since 2005 or so. It used to be that one had to install a little tool to hack one’s DVD drive in the computer to fix this problem; I can’t remember needing this the last decade at least. Same with ‘CSS’.


      Whenever something is digital, the rule is to ignore all laws that cover the same situations in the ‘analogue world’ and try for the reintroduction of every anti-competitive practice possible, that were long ago stomped out in the ‘analogue world’ for many good reasons. This shows the souls of the digital entrepreneurs, them being exactly the same creatures as the robber barons of old!

      • Ethan in NoVA says:

        Local DVD player manufacturers? I doubt the region code issue was the big reason for offshore production, the cheap price of manufacture was.

        I do remember the Apex digital players with the region code disable backdoor, they were a US based company with all engineering/manufacturing in China.

        Optical pickups on so many older optical drives are failing now, it’s a problem.

  5. Rowen says:

    Part of the problem is that the courts have given disruptive tech companies leeway with regards to anticompetitive behavior, because (grumble grumble) “network effects”. But when the tech achieves the critical mass to become successful, they rarely abandon those anticompetitive behavior.

    • Jesse says:

      Orange jump suits and shackles could solve that problem. Apply liberally and that particular rash will disappear.

  6. David Hall says:

    Disney was seeing its copyright on Mickey Mouse was nearing expiration. They got Sonny Bono to sponsor a bill extending the life of a copyright. It has been dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1998.” Disney may continue to control copyright of the image.

    • Cher says:

      Copyrights were created so that a writer or an artist could get a return on their work for a few years after they released it. Seems like they were originally for five or seven years or something like that.

      Undying copyrights for undying corporations is an obscenity and a force for the zombiefication of art and creativity.

      • Dan says:

        As the author Neil Gaiman says: copyright should allow me to profit from my work. It shouldn’t allow my grandchildren to profit from my work.

        Copyright lasts until a few years after the creator’s death, which I think is reasonable. We need new rules for where the creator is a corporation and cannot die (even when they do go bust, their assets (including copyrighted works) are bought by another corporation).

  7. michael Earussi says:

    The key is to have products that 3rd party vendors can’t easily duplicate. Today’s high quality Epson and Canon professional OEM inkjet inks (such as for the Canon Pro 4000 and Epson P9000) can’t be readily duplicated by smaller companies with less to spend on R&D, so if you want the best you have to pay for it.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I have an Epson printer, and it is the biggest effing scam there is. Epson’s cartridges appear to be on a timer and become “empty” over something like 6 months, even if you don’t use the printer or barely use it. I hardly ever use it — just a few pages a year — and each 6 months or so it tells me to buy new cartridges (around $56 for a set). And it refuses to print if I don’t. The company needs to have its pants sued off for fraud by a class-action lawyer.

      This is the most expensive printing I have ever done in my life.

      Obviously, I’m looking at alternatives, including reverting to black-and-white laser printing, which is a good deal, as long as you don’t need colors :-]

      • medialAxis says:

        Well, we’re entering the age of the shared economy so perhaps you’d be better off not buying a printer at all. Just pay for the use of some one else’s. I say “someone else’s” but, more in the spirit of the shared economy, the payment is your contribution to your locally shared printer, which can be a better printer than you’d be willing to splash out on yourself.

        It’ll be interesting to see how the shared economy impacts manufacturers. Will they still be able to use these tricks to over charge for cartridges? In the shared economy they’ll be selling fewer printers, perhaps they’ll just be hiring them out?

        Have I mentioned the revolution will not be centralised?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I thought about “sharing” a printer. But there is a problem with this: privacy and confidential data. If you send something to a shared printer (network or otherwise), it creates an electronic copy and prints that electronic copy. And others have access to this electronic copy. So this might be your tax return you just printed…

          There is a UPS store near here with a computer/printing setup. But no way.

        • medialAxis says:

          WR wrote, ” If you send something to a shared printer (network or otherwise), it creates an electronic copy and prints that electronic copy. And others have access to this electronic copy. So this might be your tax return you just printed…”

          Yes, it’s damned annoying some still want documents in physical form, which is the worst possible form if you want to keep stuff private. Thus you have to buy a printer just so as you can print a few documents a year – ridiculous. But we’re in a transition to a more digital world[1]. People are waking up to the fact that if you want to keep documents (and such) private then make them digital[2]. Digital docs can be encrypted such that only those that you wish to read them can read them. Better still, you can arrange that they can only read those parts they need to read (think medical records and such). Another bonus is decentralised storage of docs (and such), which is often far more secure than centralised storage (but that’s a digression). So, anyway, as I said, we’re in the transition to digital so will have to put up with that pesky printer in the corner, which we have to spend time maintaining and buying expensive cartridges for. One day we may be free of all these possessions. As the song goes, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

          [1] Here in the UK the IR have gone totally digital.
          [2] Printing them is the worst thing you can do. If only because the printed copy cannot be (easily) encrypted but can be (easily) copied (by anyone with a phone in their pocket).

      • KFritz says:

        A qualified and eight-year-old recommendation for Canon printers. I know nothing about 2019 printers. Canon’s software was/is annoying, but still functional for sporadic users, and the machine still works. If you buy any printer and it’s going to sit idle, close it tight. Dust on the wheels can make them too slick for automatic operation–on a permanent basis. I have to nursemaid the tiny amount of printing I do on account of this phenomenon.

      • fajensen says:

        For most inkjet printers, one can buy unoriginal cartridges online which are typically costing less than 1/3 of the branded ones.

        My attitude is that if my printer croaks on the “impure” ink straight from China, so be it, it has it coming!

        Brother went and priced a full cartridge set at about 100 EUR, the “straight from China”-set is 25 EUR; with a “free” 1200 pages Black cartridge thrown in. If the thing survives only for three refills with that stuff, then the savings will pay for another printer!

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Epson’s software detects “unoriginal” cartridges and disables the printer. Read the reviews on Amazon about this :-]

        • Unamused says:

          Epson’s software detects “unoriginal” cartridges and disables the printer

          Some don’t. No telling which those might be.

      • Valuationguy says:

        I used the EPSON ET-4550….which has ink tanks, rather than cartridges, which need to be periodically filled…and have found it to be much less expensive from the standpoint of refills. The tanks are much bigger than the cartridges and as long as you print regularly (one color picture or document per week)..the nozzles on the printer don’t dry up (which is where most of printer issues occur).

        All of the cartridge printers were too expensive to me.

      • carcias says:

        I had an Epson once. When the cartridge ran out, and I saw the huge prices on refills, it became a large doorstop. Then I moved, and left it for the next occupant. I made sure the next printer I bought had 3rd party refills available. Besides, the dang Epson always had paper feed issues. But those are fixed as well by the method above.

      • Prairies says:

        Switch to lazer, you pay a little more up front for the printer but jobber cartridges make up the savings. You also get thousands of sheets per cartridge.

      • Megan says:

        It was extremely satisfying to launch my HP printer and watch it explode on the patio; I spent way too much time dealing with error messages and spent a fortune on cartridges for that awful piece of equipment.
        A very helpful young techie fellow posted a sequence of commands to bypass the low-toner message on Youtube which pops up long before the cartridges on my Brother laser printers are empty. I could not find this on the Brother website.
        I am considering a tank printer which uses bottles of ink poured into reservoirs. This seems like it would be both less expensive and eliminate a lot of plastic waste.

      • Allister says:

        Memory sticks are so cheap I hardly ever print anymore, but, if I need a good quality color print, my local Staples store can do that for me.

  8. Javert Chip says:

    “…But when the tech achieves the critical mass to become successful, they rarely abandon those anticompetitive behavior…”

    And in the real world, when tech reaches critical mass, they give tens of millions in “campaign contributions” to politicians.

    From a taxonomy standpoint, this is hard to differentiate from bribes, except politicians have decided “donations” are legal: politicians ask for money, tech “donates” because they want specific things, politicians give tech what they want.

    • Kevin C. Smith says:

      As I understand it, when CongressCritters™ retire, they can KEEP any leftover campaign “contributions”….

    • Unamused says:

      this is hard to differentiate from bribes

      Bribery is legal. So is fraud. Anarcho-capitalists prefer it this way.

      tens of millions in “campaign contributions” to politicians.

      You could ‘vote’ against corporate lackeys, except that the Russians decide such things now. Americans like the convenience.

      • Laughing Eagle says:

        I find this comment not related to the article and I am surprised Wolf did not delete it. Besides your are misinformed. The idea Russians influenced the election is only from the poorly done Mueller Report which was to keep bashing Trump until 2020. Mueller never investigated anything involving the Steele Dossier the FBI used to get FISA warrants to spy on Trump people. This Dossier was produced by a MI-6 spy, Steele who got made up information, from the Russians that was never verified. So most of the information the Russians gave was made up.
        Trump won because the independents issue a “revolt” vote going against the establishments favorite and we did not want another Obama clone and with her mess on the emails, that took it over the top. We did not need to listen to anything the Russians said which was then exploded by CNN, the worst news organization on the planet since it mostly speculation, and smear.

  9. Dave says:

    Great article. I learned alot. It did make me think that if these companies are using dirty tricks and legal threats to fend off competition, rather than making better products, maybe its good China makes some counterfit products to keep prices competitive until the laws change to make tech companies more competitive?


    • Unamused says:

      until the laws change to make tech companies more competitive


      I think you could be waiting a long time. Indeed, I think your descendants could be waiting a long time.

      Laws are no longer enacted to protect prey.

      Predators prefer it that way. They want you to have a stick of butter for tonight’s dessert to improve your marbling.

  10. William Smith says:

    Ummm… laser printer toner is made up of tiny plastic beads which are made from oil, not “carbon powder”. The tiny plastic beads are fused/melted onto the paper at the last step. Nowadays all printer manufacturers “chip” their laser (plastic) toner and colored ink products. I used to buy Brother because they were the only one that didn’t do this, but a few years ago, they too went to the dark side and became evil. A neighbor just bought another printer because the cost of new cartridges was the same as a new printer (and the “starter” cartridges with new printers are only partially filled). Now they have two older “junk” printers just sitting there. Luckily for us the chinese don’t care about stupid laws like “DMCA” and happily provide “adversarial interoperability”. Those rapacious greedy corporates have provided this possibility because they sought to exploit cheap chinese labor without knowing that the chinese have a world view that spans centuries, not just financial reporting quarters. Since the chinese are now building all the stuff, they are also happily copying (or over-producing) it to sell in the secondary grey market which the rapacious corporates have no control over. But in the end it is up to the customers to vote with their dollars and I have no sympathy for someone who has naively bought a product which is digitally locked up, and which they cannot repair (or have repaired). This is criminal waste on an industrial scale as your only recourse is to throw it out and buy another one (like my neighbor). The crApple air-pods are another case in point. The batteries are pretty much useless after 18 months and the whole lot is glued together making battery replacement virtually impossible. It is the height of criminality to produce something in which the battery can’t be easily repaired or replaced. If you buy a product with inbuilt Lithium Ion batteries (as much stuff now has) which can’t be replaced, then expect to throw it out in two years! It took Madison Avenue many many years to extol the “virtues” of the throwaway coffee cup (as people used reusable things then). Just look how well Madison Avenue has triumphed at your clueless expense! (paid over and over and over again and again)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      William Smith,

      “Ummm… laser printer toner is made up of tiny plastic beads which are made from oil, not “carbon powder”.”

      OK, use some logic here. Oil is composed of hydrogen and carbon (that’s why it’s called a hydrocarbon). Which of the two do you think toner is made out of?

      • Hans says:

        Hint. If anyone wants to see the properties of Hydrogen, watch that old black n white clip of the zeppelin Hindenburg coming into New Jersey.

      • Jonathan says:

        Both/and. Paraffins for the electrostatic attraction and thermal fusion to the paper, lampblack for color.

        Say, have you priced out color LED-based “laser” printers lately?

  11. Bobber says:

    Easy solution. Make the corporate tax rates more progressive at very high profit levels. For example, any corporation with taxable profits exceeding $10B or $20B per year could be taxed at a 35% rate, rather than the 21% rate that now applies to all corporate income. Large companies would then lose their incentive to get larger via M&A, and this would not require increased government or regulations.

    Of course, large corporations like the current system which is subjective, prone to court battles, and unenforceable from a practical standpoint.

    • Anon1970 says:

      Very few companies paid income taxes at the 35% rate when it still existed. Multi-national companies have a habit of concentrating their profits in subsidiaries in countries with low corporate tax rates.

    • Javert Chip says:

      As an old CFO, I absolutely assure you, there are MANY highly pleasurable was to ensure corporate profits do not exceed the threshold of your proposed higher marginal rates. This is literally a no-brainer.

    • d says:

      “Easy solution. Make the corporate tax rates more progressive at very high profit levels. For example, any corporation with taxable profits exceeding $10B or $20B per year could be taxed at a 35% rate, rather than the 21% rate that now applies to all corporate income.”

      Getting there.

      However it needs to be set against, and paid from, their gross, before any deductions, with a gross margin post deductions scale, that ensures they do not jack prices, to raise their post tax profit margins, as they usually do, to pass the cost of the tax to the consumer.

      Currently corporates dont pay tax, the consumer, is forced by the corporate, raising prices to get the net after tax return it wants, to pay the tax for them..

    • Juanfo says:

      They will just change the definition of “income” so they never reach the threshold.

  12. Paulo says:

    When the corporations buy the Govt, as apparently done/started with Clinton and ilk, this is what happens. Printers? In a nearby small city we had a retired guy who made a decent addition to his funds filling ink jet cartridges for a fraction of the cost.

    Laser cartridges? often cheaper or the same price to buy a whole new printer if you watch the sales.

    The big issue going forward will be batteries for cars; jobber replacements. I am sure Tesla, leaf, whoever, will have software that disables their cars if you purchase an alternative battery. It reminds me when there was a subsidy for everyone to swap out their oil furnaces in BC. Once a critical mass was reached the retail prices for nat gas and electricity mysteriously climbed.

    • Ethan in NoVA says:

      The Tesla Model S uses ~6,900 standard 18650 batteries. There is a hot hobbyist community around all of the EVs. No company will lock out the end users from changing parts out. There is nothing the vendor can do that can’t be reversed if there is will power from the community to do it.

    • Prairies says:

      Apple already pulled the “jobber” replacement disable. If the screen didn’t have some matching serial number the home button wouldn’t register. Can’t remember how it turned out but it just keeps happening, Tesla is hard to part out at the moment because of the same issues. Any mix and match parts won’t work with each other unless Tesla changes the code. Same with John Deere equipment. I hope the “Right To Repair” movement gets some teeth, need something to counter this DMCA manure.

  13. Steppenwolf says:

    Go on and pretend this isn’t what it’s been about since at least the Norman conquest.

    • Auld Kodjer says:

      … or Roman conquest.

      “Ambitus” was the word given to political corruption through bribery and soft power in ancient Rome.

      Funny (not) how unethical Ambitus has morphed into acceptable Ambition in modern language.

    • kitten lopez says:


      and yes, this was actually a totally fascinating article. thank you. and wow…

  14. Dave says:

    Bobber, that doesnt sound like an easy solution. Arent there many ways to make your taxable income look like they are less than they really are?

  15. Anon1970 says:

    A lot of American companies that were considered the high tech of their day got fat and lazy and did a terrible job bringing useful innovations to market. Zenith, Polaroid, RCA, Eastman Kodak and Xerox come to mind. Getting help from Congress goes only so far. The Xerox 914 cost 15 cents a copy at the local library (1960’s) when I was a student and the idea having your very own copier at home was unthinkable. Since 2010, I have had a multi-function laser printer at home. I think I paid around $130 for it (far less than I paid for my HP 370 printer in 1998 and it didn’t even copy, fax or scan). Replacement cartridges run me around $60 and are rated at 2500 copies. Every 12,000 copies, the drum also need to be replaced, but I have only had to do that once.

    Shortly before I decided to replace my HP, I learned that when the color cartridges on an ink jet printer dry out, you need to replace them even if you are not printing in color. That was the last straw.

    • raxadian says:

      Yeah, there is a reason why I have a generic laser printer even if laser printouts are less durable than ink.

      The last time I wanted an ink printer I asked for one that could take generics, the vebdor started a speech about how that really didn’t save money and bla bla bla. I went somewhere else and I got a laser printer instead.

    • Suzie Alcatrez says:

      I ran into the ‘replace all the inks’ for $60 and switched to a $100 laser printer a few years ago.

      • Arizona Slim says:

        The ink replacement treadmill? Glad I never got on that one.

        Been a laser printer user since the 1990s, and I see no reason to change my ways.

        If I needed something printed in color, I’ll go to the nearby print shop and pay them to do it.

    • MCH says:

      Yesterday’s Apple is tomorrow’s Kodak. For all of Leader Tim’s endless yammering (I’d call it a lie but I want to be politically correct) about innovation, Apple just isn’t. It’s a bunch of marketing talking points now trying to squeeze every dime out of hardware and hoping to get its services big enough to move the needles. The smart thing for Apple at this point is to buy Disney.

      You know Cook just doesn’t have any ideas because he is in the news these days not because of any tech innovations, only for his social stances. The only thing I am wondering is whether Apple will collapse in the next decade or not. All that’s open now is whether the current B player is going to hire a C player or if he manages to get another B player to replace him.

        • MCH says:

          Ok, so I actually understand why Apple did this, this is basically part for the course for the consumer electronics industry. I want to say Apple started this trend, but I could be wrong. For them, it’s so much better to have you buy a new phone, a new Mac every few years. It’s ridiculous, but that’s why they are an almost trillion dollar company, and the rest of us are just schmucks.

          The sad thing is there are probably ways around this business model. But clearly, Apple and the consumer electronics industry saw what happened to the car market (see Wolf’s post the other day), and didn’t want to end up like them. So, unrepairable product it is. In turn, we get a mountain of electronic waste as Apple forces you to swap out for a new phone every two to three years.

          And for someone who is all about social responsibility, and environmental consciousness, leader Tim seem to care very little about the mountain of hazardous material Apple is generating. But at least they have that robot that recycles iPhone right? Great PR.

  16. ZeroBrain says:

    Beyond the legalities of repurposing/reusing hardware, the larger argument is that industry players in mature technologies have built patent portfolios and use them to stifle competition. I don’t see a way around this – patents protect the incentive for innovation in areas where research is expensive but reimplementation is cheap – small molecule drug development, for example. I believe patents are necessary for private investment in these areas.

    So, what systemic changes could be made to prevent abuse? It’s kind of like healthcare – everyone wants a better system, but improved solutions require attention to detail and thought on the part of many people operating within a complex system and bureaucratic institutions, so nothing happens.

    • lenert says:

      How about reducing copyrights from 50 years to 5?
      Or requiring inventions developed with taxpayer money be public domain? (Bayh-Dole act)
      Or funding drug research up front and making the test results public? (here, try this Vioxx)
      Or letting doctors compete in a global market like auto-workers.
      Dean Baker has a free book about how we’ve structured all this – it’s not the “natural” development of tech and globalization. It’s by design.

      • ZeroBrain says:

        I’ll look into that book. Regarding copyrights – software is often copyrighted and that’s really important to recoup the huge development costs. Reduce that to 5 years and you can say goodbye to many products. It is a prime example of expensive to create, cheap to copy.

  17. medialAxis says:

    Such behaviour, by these firms, increases pollution. Their behaviour is short sighted. They should be named and shamed and that’s up to the users. Personally, I rarely print stuff so when I do I use a local shop or my local library (10p per A4 page. B & W only, I think)

  18. Nicko2 says:

    Technology moves on. I used to print thousands of pages in a given year….I still have an HP laserjet…but barely use it. High res. computer screens plus tablets (iPad), or even smartphone – mean I have many ways to read a document. It’s also nice to preserve the environment by cutting back on paper usage.

  19. lenert says:

    The Lexmark tax, the HP tax, the Microsoft tax, the Pfizer tax, the Disney tax. We pay billions extra for government-granted patent-protected software and drugs because these companies don’t have to compete in a free market. This stuff is cheap but we make it expensive through DMCA, the Bayh-Dole act, Citizens United Not Timid etc. And now we want to expand those protections to other countries through TPP etc. China’s not going to “steal” “my” intellectual property.

  20. Shawn says:

    Good article but my take is a bit different. American business has always been about forming monopolies. What tech is doing is no different. Monopolistic tendencies is really the endgame of said company’s business model. It like saying, “Look at me, I have no ideas left to grow my business or move on to another business, time to use corrupt laws to protect what I have.” Tech today is in a far more precarious position in having it’s marbles taken away then at anytime in the past. It no wonder they are fighting tooth and nail to stop it

  21. Cashboy says:

    When ever I buy lazer printers I look at printers that do not have a chip on the cartridge and that there was a method of re-using the lazer cartridge. I would then only have to buy toner. The best lazer printers for this were Minolta and Brothers as they even had removable plugs so no drilling of the cartridge is required.

    Of course there are instructions on how to do it:

    Recommended to my accountancy clients and saved us all a fortune.

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