Printer manufacturers are being challenged in a revolutionary French criminal lawsuit.

The case comes against the four manufacturers that dominate the French market: HP, Canon, Epson and Brother. The environmental association group Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée (Stop Planned Obsolescence) are alleging that these companies build ink cartridges which “use an electronic technique designed to reduce the lifespan of the cartridge.” HOP believe these ink cartridges are designed to stop working when there is still 20% of the ink left. printers planned obsolescence

In 2015, French parliament passed a law making it illegal to “reduce deliberately the lifespan of a product to increase the rate of replacement.” Two years later, this lawsuit is the legislation’s first test.

Emile Meunier, HOP’s lawyer, stated that “millions of French printer owners may have been wronged” and Laetitia Vasseur, the association’s founder, said, “The association was alerted by numerous people scandalised by the short lifespan of printers and ink cartridges. We have reason to believe there is truly a problem.”

If found guilty, executives face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and €300,000 fine; the companies themselves will also be fined 5% of their average revenue over the previous three years. Should HOP succeed with their lawsuit, they plan to take on smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung.

Canon has stated that they will co-operate with the authorities and that they are committed to sustainable economic growth. However, so far, Epson, Brother and HP have declined to comment.

Before the case is able to have its day in court, prosecutors will need to decide if there is enough evidence to proceed. It could be a long and tortuous battle ahead for HOP.

This is only the latest development in what has been an exciting two years for opponents of planned obsolescence. Coming only months after European Union MEPs voted overwhelmingly to end the practice as soon as possible, activists rightly believe that progress is finally being made.

September 25, 2017 — Amanda Saxby