By: Michael Katz, Deputy Director of ORI

       Hewlett Packard’s decision to reverse course after public outcry over their attempt to limit which ink cartridges their customers could use in printers is a victory for consumers everywhere. HP offered a seemingly standard security patch back in March for their printers without telling customers that there was a “ticking time bomb” feature included that would not take effect until mid-September. When this time arrived two weeks ago, HP printers suddenly began to reject ink cartridges that were refilled by third parties. Without notifying their consumers beforehand, HP had decided to force customers to only buy cartridges sold by them.

       After public outcry by their own customers, HP announced that they would reverse course. They will soon be giving the option to download a new software update that will roll back this feature and allow people to use whatever ink cartridges they want. This is an important victory for consumer rights. A person who bought a printer should be able to do with it as they please. There should be no feeling of trepidation of a company changing how the product works when a new security fix is needed.

        Other manufacturers should take notice of this significant development. A company that chooses to restrict the after-purchase options of their devices will be met with swift opposition from their very own customers. Furthermore, using a security update as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to sneak a restriction like this into the underlying software is bad for both business and product security. There are serious security issues that will arise over the lifetime of a product, and a customer should not be worried that a manufacturer will use these circumstances as an opportunity to limit their legitimate purchasing options. Consumers should be able to apply any free security software update without the fear that this will alter the base product that they bought by limiting their ability to use it.

         The embedded software found inside of a machine should not be used to control the product after its sale. Software enables a wide array of devices to perform tasks that were seemingly impossible only a short time ago. As an increasing number of goods incorporate software to some degree, it is important that consumers know that the things they bought will not be altered without their knowledge and consent. These goods have been sold under the First Sale Doctrine. Once you buy it, you own it, and can do with it as you please.

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