Pluralistic: 07 Aug 2022

Today's links

EFF's printer DRM banner by Hugh D'Andrade, depicting a printer with an anthropomorphic sick face vomiting out four bars of ink.

Epson boobytrapped its printers (permalink)

"Innovation" has become a curseword, thanks to…innovation. Some of the world's most imaginative, best-funded sociopaths have spent decades innovating ways to fuck you over. While the whole tech sector likes to get in on this game, no one "innovates" like inkjet printer companies.

Printer companies are true fuckery pioneers: the tactical innovations they've developed in the war on their customers would make Otto von Bismarck blush.

Selling printers with half-empty ink-cartridges:

Requiring useless, mandatory "calibration tests" that use up all your ink:

Or just having printers reject partially full cartridges as empty.

When you're at war with your customers, you have to anticipate that your rivals will join your customers' side – not because other businesses are paragons of consumer protection, but because it's profitable. So printer companies tried to use copyright to block ink refillers:

Then patent law:

When that got stale, they figured out how to put DRM in paper, too:

If we could harness the creative energy put into turning printer users into ink-stained wretches, we could end the world's reliance on Russian gas in an instant:

Here's a good one! Epson will brick your printer after you've run a certain number of pages, "for your own good."

How does that work? Well, Epson says that it designs its printers with little internal sponges that soak up excess ink and when they become saturated, that ink might run out of the bottom of your printer and stain your furniture.

If this sounds like bullshit to you, that's because it's bullshit, as are the claims that excess ink could get into the printer's electronic circuits and start a fire:

If your printer's sponges get too full of excess ink and you're worried about it, you can easily and cheaply install new sponges:

But that would deny Epson a new printer sale, and divert your perfectly good printer from joining the mountains of e-waste that are poisoning the global south, and we couldn't have that.

So they've rigged their printers' software so that even if you replace the sponges, the printer can still refuse to print. Replacing or resetting this software requires that you bypass the DRM designed to prevent this, and providing a DRM-defeat tool is a felony punishable by a 5-year sentence and a $500k fine under Section 1201 of the DMCA.

But maybe this is a violation of consumer protection laws. Aaron Perzanowski thinks so, and he's a law professor. If the FTC were to go after Epson on this, they would be genuine American heroes, celebrated as true guardians of the public interest.

Previously, the FTC resolved this kind of self-bricking fraud by ordering companies to disclose the practice at the time of purchase. This is not good enough.

A real remedy – one that would prevent this conduct in future – would be a ban on self-bricking devices altogether, along with immunity from civil and criminal liability for companies and individuals who design defeat devices to un-brick illegally bricked gadgets, under patent, copyright, contract, and all other legal theories.

EFF/Hugh D'Andrade

CC BY 3.0

(Image: EFF/Hugh D'Andrade, CC BY 3.00

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Neal Stephenson’s Some Remarks, a remarkable essay collection

#10yrsago If Hemingway (and Shakespeare, and co) were coders

#20yrsago Ben Franklin, hax0r

#5yrsago Five reasons to play D&D

#10yrsago Science fiction grand master Jack Vance rockin’ a uke and a kazoo

#5yrsago Amazon is the poster child for everything wrong with post-Reagan anti-trust enforcement

#5yrsago “Adversarial perturbations” reliably trick AIs about what kind of road-sign they’re seeing

#5yrsago Real-estate speculators bought the road and sidewalk in a gated wealthy San Francisco enclave

#1yrago End bankruptcy shopping: No more Sacklers, ever

#1yrago Doordash privacywashes its war on workers

#1yrago Facebook's official disinformation research portal is a bad joke

#1yrago Scammers sell griefers social media banning services

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. Friday's progress: 513 words (29955 words total)

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. Friday's progress: 510 words (25953 words total)

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. (92849 words total) – ON PAUSE

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: View a SKU: Let’s Make Amazon Into a Dumb Pipe

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

(Latest Medium column: "Como is Infosec"

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla