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Digital copyright law applied to printer cartridge lawsuit

A federal judge in Kentucky has ordered a maker of microchips used in replacement laser printer cartridges to stop making and selling its products, in a case brought by printer maker Lexmark which alleges a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).13 Jan 2003

Lexmark claims that Static Control Components's Smartek chips, which can be used in toner cartridges developed by Lexmark, violate the controversial law that makes it an offence to circumvent technological measures aimed to restrict access to copyrighted works.

In its lawsuit, filed in December 2002, Lexmark alleges that the Smartek chips incorporate infringing copies of Lexmark's copyrighted software and are being sold by Static Control to "defeat Lexmark's technological controls, thereby allowing unauthorised access to Lexmark's protected software programs and the unauthorised remanufacturing of Lexmark's Prebate(TM) toner cartridges."

In other words, Lexmark claims that the Smartek chips "trick" its printers into accepting Lexmark cartridges that have been re-used without authorisation.

A temporary order is now in place until the case itself is heard before the court.

The EU has recently proposed a Directive to introduce mandatory re-cycling of electrical and electronic equipment. Among other things, the draft law will stop manufacturers from embedding "smart" chips in printer cartridges to prevent their re-use, because the legislators believe that this practice results in more waste going into landfills.