A customer fed up with the tyranny of home printers is suing Canon for disabling multiple functions on an all-in-one printer when it runs out of ink.
Consumer printer makers have long used the razor blade business model—so named after companies who sell razor handles for cheap, but the compatible replacement blades at much higher prices. Printers capable of producing impressive-looking color prints at home are surprisingly affordable, but that’s because the majority of the profit comes from the over-priced replacement ink cartridges. More often than not, these home printers will become completely disabled through software when just a single color cartridge runs low, forcing owners to keep buying replacements, even if they only intend to print black-and-white text.
The advent of devices like smartphones and even social media have made sharing photos digitally much easier, which means consumers are printing photos less and less. That has had an effect on the profitability of home printers, which has led to companies like Epson introducing printers (its EcoTank line) that are much cheaper and easier to refill, and don’t completely shut down when one type of ink runs low. But not every printer maker is going that route, as David Leacraft discovered.
Leacraft, who is named as the plaintiff in a class-action complaint against Canon filed in a U.S. federal court in New York last week, found that their Canon Pixma MG6320 all-in-one printer would no longer scan or fax documents when it was out of ink, despite neither of those functions requiring any printing at all. According to Bleeping Computer, it’s an issue that dates back to at least 2016 when other customers reported the same problem to Canon through the company’s online forums, and were told by the company’s support people that all the ink cartridges must be installed and contain ink to use all of the printer’s features.
The complaint points out that Canon promotes its all-in-one printers as having multiple distinct features, including printing, copying, scanning, and sometimes even faxing, but without any warnings that those features are dependent on sufficient levels of ink being available.
“Canon does not represent or warn consumers that ink is a necessary component in order to scan or fax documents. As a result, consumers are forced to incur unexpected and unnecessary burden and expense in the form of ink purchases or in the alternative be unable to scan or fax documents using the so-called all-in-one device,” the complaint states. It also asserts, “There is no reason or technical basis for manufacturing the All-in-One Printers with an ink level detection function that causes the scanner to stop functioning when ink is low or empty. Canon designed the All-in-One Printers in such a way to require consumers to maintain ink in their devices regardless of whether they intend to print. The result is an increase in ink sales from which Canon obtains significant profits.”
We’ve reached out to Canon for comment on the lawsuit and will update when we hear back.
The class-action complaint, with more than 100 members, is seeking at least $5,000,000, a demand for a jury trial, and cites well over 20 models of Canon all-in-one printers as exhibiting this problematic behavior. Depending on the outcome, and whether the courts allow it to move forward, anyone who purchased one of the referenced all-in-one Canon models could be eligible for compensation.