Knock-Off Printer Cartridges

Lexmark v. Static Control

The Law and IT
43 minutes, 19.7mb, recorded 2004-10-27

Ernest Miller, Jason Schultz, Derek Slater and Joseph Gratz

Lexmark, the printer manufacturer, attempted to use copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to prevent companies like Static Control Components from making compatible toner cartridges or refilling used cartridges. By putting a very simple microchip on each toner cartridge that "shook hands" with the printer software, Lexmark hoped to use the law to protect their profitable toner business.

A district court agreed with Lexmark, which would mean that nearly any company that made replacement devices, such as oil filters for cars, could very easily be sued under copyright law. Luckily, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected those arguments.

The ruling examines issues regarding the copyrightability of computer code (Are 55 bytes enough?), fair use of copied code (How much can you copy for compatibility? What is the proper market analysis?), proper application the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (What does "access" mean? How do the reverse-engineering exception apply?), and shrinkwrap agreements (Do those pieces of paper in the box you just bought mean anything?).

For more information on this case visit the EFF web site.

Joseph Gratz is a third-year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School who concentrates on intellectual property issues. Jason Schultz is a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Derek Slater is a Harvard University senior and affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

This program is one of a series, The Importance of...Law and IT, hosted by Ernest Miller.

This free podcast is from our The Law and IT with Ernest Miller series.