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HP is copping with an international backlash after thousands of owners of its printers were suddenly blocked from using cheaper, third-party ink cartridges.

And consumer advocacy group Choice says it will begin investigating whether HP has breached Australian Consumer Law.

Early last week, HP printer owners using non-HP ink cartridges began to complain they were receiving error messages such as "cartridge problem", "one or more cartridges are missing or damaged" or "older generation cartridge".

Manufacturers and sellers of ink cartridges speculated that HP had pre-programmed a failure date of unbranded cartridges in the firmware of certain printers.

HP has since confirmed that it did indeed add stronger protections around its "innovations and intellectual property" via a firmware update. It also says this measure had been pre-installed in its other printers.

Modern ink cartridges contain both software and hardware components to improve print quality, reduce mistakes and communicate its status.

This advancement has allowed manufacturers to sabotage the works of third-party players who profit from re-filling and re-manufacturing cartridges.

Choice is concerned that HP is locking customers into buying only its expensive ink.

"Even worse, it's doing this after consumers have already bought the product, meaning they haven't given their customers the opportunity to vote with their wallets and buy a different printer," says spokesman Tom Godfrey.

"If consumers bought an HP printer relying on the fact that it could use non-HP ink, and HP has unilaterally taken that functionality away, then there is a risk that the company is breaching consumer law."

"After years of being able to use non-HP ink, consumers have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to continue to choose which ink they will use," he says.

HP outrages printer owners after it blocks the use of cheap ink cartridges by stealth (external - login to view)