What if your printer wouldn’t print out text from your e-book? That’s the future IBM may envision if the patent application it just filed comes to fruition. Torrentfreak reports that IBM filed a patent application on a printer that wouldn’t copy or print copyrighted text or images.
Personally, I suspect there isn’t any danger of the printer patent actually seeing use. Companies file weird patents all the time for interesting concepts they don’t actually intend to produce—just look at Google’s recent patent on an adhesive that would turn the hoods of self-driving cars into human-catching flypaper. This printer patent strikes me as another one of those.
Even if it did come into use, I can’t imagine anyone intentionally buying such a crippled printer for themselves, though it might be attractive to libraries, FedEx Office locations, and other places that allow the general public to print material through their printers but don’t want to enable copyright violation. But even such limited use would present its own problems.
We’ve already seen copyright-violation-catching systems like YouTube’s ContentID fire off against public domain material, or against videos that use only excerpts of copyrighted material—a use that is specifically permitted under fair use law. A similar content-protection system stopped Ustream’s live broadcast of the Hugo Awards in 2012 for broadcasting clips from a Doctor Who episode (even though their use had been permitted by the rights holder). In similar vein, I could see IBM’s printer causing problems when it comes to printing out term papers that include quotes from copyrighted books or articles—as term papers have been doing since time immemorial.
Furthermore, another fair use involves being able to copy and print copyrighted material in its entirety for your own personal use. If you’re not planning to distribute it anywhere, but you want to be able to mark on it or take notes, you have the right to do that. But not if that IBM printer comes into play.
Of course, given how many e-books are protected by DRM these days, the notion of being able to print them from even a normal printer is typically a pipe dream. But it doesn’t seem like we should be rushing to implement yet another system that make it hard for us to use copyrighted material in ways we have every legal right to.