Canon faces US$5 million lawsuit for disabling scanning functions on printer with no ink

There is no "legitimate purpose" for tying non-print functions to ink levels, the lawsuits says.
There is no "legitimate purpose" for tying non-print functions to ink levels, the lawsuits says. Photo credit: Getty Images

Canon is being sued for US$5 million (NZ$7 million) in a class action lawsuit in the United States because its printers won't scan documents when the ink levels are too low.

New Yorker David Leacraft brought the federal lawsuit against the global camera and printer manufacturer after purchasing a Canon PIXMA MG2522 all-in-one printer earlier this year for its scanning ability.

"After purchasing and using the device, he learned that the device does not function as a scanner if the ink cartridges are low or empty," the filed complaint states.

"Leacraft would not have purchased the device or would not have paid as much for it had he known that he would have to maintain ink in the device in order to scan documents."

That meant Canon's advertising claims of an all-in-one device were false, misleading and reasonably likely to deceive the public, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit states there are more than 100 people overall in the class action lawsuit, seeing in excess of US$5 million for the "harm" to those who have purchased from the same printer and a range of similar Canon devices.

"There is no legitimate purpose for selling the all-in-one printers with scanning or faxing functionality that is directly tied to existence or level of ink contained in the devices," the lawsuit states.

"Ink is not needed for scanning or faxing functionality. Ink does not improve scanning or faxing performance. Tying the scan or fax capabilities of the all-in-one printers to ink contained in the devices offers no benefit, and only serves to disadvantage and financially harm consumers."

The lawsuit also points out that most printers are sold at a loss, with manufacturers making money by selling ink refills.

Wing Lam, an associate director of cost benchmarking at IHS Markit has described this as "a classic razor-and-blade business model where the manufacturer sells the goods at a low price to help increase the sales of accessories, where the money is made".

Earlier this year a study by consumer organisation Which? in the UK found printer ink was more expensive than perfume and champagne.

One set of Epson printer inks cost the equivalent of around NZ$4750 per litre, which would buy just under 3000 bottles of branded beer in New Zealand.

Many manufacturers warn against using third-party inks in their printers while some of HP's printers stop cartridges with non-HP chips from working at all.

That was despite Which? finding 16 cheaper non-branded inks that rated better for quality than original inks from major printer manufacturers like Brother, Canon, Epson and HP.

In Aotearoa, Consumer NZ suggests using third-party ink cartridges or refill kits to keep the price of printing low, again mentioning the "considerable profit" manufacturers make.

"Some even threaten to invalidate your warranty if you use products from other brands," it said.

"The choice is yours. Tests by consumer organisations overseas have shown that some third-party products are just as good as proprietary ones."