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Lexmark unleashes DMCA on toner cartridge rival

More unexpected applications of controversial copyright law

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Lexmark has invoked the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act in a legal action against a firm that makes chips that permit third party toner cartridges to work in its printers.

The printer company is suing Static Control Components for violation of the Copyright Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act regarding the Static Control's Smartek microchips. Normally litigants would use patent laws in such cases but here we see another example of the surprising applications of the DMCA.

In November stores used the DMCA to defend the copyright of pricing lists, now its been applied to printer cartridge microchips.

What next?

This week, federal district court in Lexington, Kentucky issued a temporary order to prevent Static Control from making or selling its microchips.

The order has been put in place until Lexmark's motion for a preliminary injunction can be heard by the Court.

Lexmark's complaint alleges that the Smartek microchips incorporate infringing copies of its software and are being sold by Static Control to defeat Lexmark's technological controls, hence the invocation of the DMCA. Its case is that Static Control's technology permits the unauthorized remanufacturing of Lexmark Prebate toner cartridges.

The European Union has passed laws against the practice of embedding chips in printer cartridges, which lawmakers believe leads to fewer cartridges being reused and more scrap going into landfills.

Lexmark disputes it is acting in an environmentally friendly or anti-competitive manner in defending its lucrative toner franchise (printer makers make money from toner - not hardware).

Lexmark points towards its remanufacturing program, where it offers toner makers an up-front rebate in return for their agreement to return used Prebate toner cartridge only to Lexmark for remanufacture. ®

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