Boycott of Epson urged over pricey ink cartridges

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The Dutch Consumer Association has advised its members to boycott Epson ink-jet printers, alleging that customers are unfairly being charged for ink they can never use.

The boycott call last week came after joint tests by several European consumer groups indicating that Epson ink cartridges prematurely block printers from churning out more pages even when there is enough ink to keep going.

In advertisements printed in several national Dutch newspapers, Epson acknowledged its printers stop working before cartridges are empty but said that protects printers from damage. They also said customers aren't charged extra for the unused ink.

Ink-jet cartridges manufactured by Epson are fitted with an "Intellidge" chip, which Epson says keeps the print head moist. If the print head dries out, air bubbles can form that destroy the printer, the company said.

The Dutch association, which has 620,000 paying members, wants Epson to modify its chip so that it gives a low-ink warning but doesn't block the printer.

It suggested that customers with Epson printers could override the current chip by using a $30 device to reset it, allowing the remaining ink to be used.

Epson spokesman Jan Willem Scheijgrond called the tip dangerous advice. "It's like driving through a red light," he said. "It can be fine, but if someone's coming from the other way, you can have an accident."

"We don't deny that it's sensible to have a certain percentage of residual ink," said Dutch Consumer Association spokesman Ewald van Kouwen.

"But we noticed (excesses of) 10, 20, 30 percent in our research. Then it's not residual ink anymore. It's just a way of getting you to buy more ink faster."

Scheijgrond said Epson might take legal action against the Dutch Consumers Association. The two parties planned to discuss their differences tomorrow.

Tests of the Epson printers published this month in the magazine "Which?" said that by overriding the chips, researchers were able to print "up to 38 percent more good-quality pages, even though the chips stated that the cartridge was empty." Some cartridges indicated they were two-thirds empty when they were only half-empty.

Prices of ink-jet printers have been dropping for years, yet the ink cartridges remain relatively expensive.

The "Which?" test showed that ink refills can quickly overtake the original cost of a printer. In fact, it said, many leading ink-jet suppliers charge more per milliliter than 1985 Dom Perignon champagne.