Users Circumvent Proprietary Coffee Machine DRM

Increasingly, manufacturers of non-electronic products are using Rights Management technology to enforce an artificial monopoly over the supply of aftermarket service and maintenance. The Senseo espresso machine is one such example; it utilises what its manufacturer calls ‘protected’ coffee pods that are only compatible with Philips’ own pod system - similar to the way DRM is used on portable music players to prevent alternative codecs being used. Unsurprisingly, the official Senseo pads are rather pricey (much more so than its competitors’).

Fear not, coffee lovers, a circumvention technique is here:

Take the pad and keep it vertical, with the opening in the 12 o’clock position. Gently insert the funnel using your other hand, and then use your thumb and index finger to hold the assembly, using just a little pressure to hold it all together, thus freeing your other hand again. Use that other hand to pour some of your finest coffee into the funnel, filling the pad just the way you like it… [You’re] left with an exquisitely filled coffee pad – that still has a small opening.

The technique described will allow users to utilise cheaper, alternative products, such as this one. It also (probably) violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. may even be liable for vicarious infringement. If invoked, the Act would be used to limit consumer freedoms, stifle an innovative technique, and enforce a private company’s right to charge unrealistic prices.

Clearly, this would be an undesirable application of expansive legislation. Thankfully, however, it looks like Google will get the last laugh: consumers who search for ‘senseo coffee filter pad’ see the unofficial circumvention techniques before the result for the official product. With any luck, this page will join them in liberating coffee enthusiasts from the shackles of proprietary refill technologies.


Coffee isn't exactly digital, the Senseo system has nothing to do with DRM, and surely that pinnacle of lobbying, the DMCA legislation, does not apply to non-digital products? The Senseo system is protected by patents. That's an entirely different protection system. - MobiProf

MobiProf, Though it may be somewhat misleading to place this post in the 'Digital Rights Management' category, it is, I think, an interesting example of how legislative mechanisms originally designed to protect digital works could encroach upon other areas. Strange though it may sound, Senseo might try to protect their technology from circumvention under the DMCA by bringing an action against those disseminating circumvention information. One would think the Act ought not to apply to everyday products, but this is sadly not the case: Selling hardware used to circumvent a protection (coffee pads are arguably a kind of hardware) Revealing information (even if already protected by patent or copyright) Garage door openers as possible 'circumvention devices' (clearly quite a broad conception, and capable of application to physical objects) However, any action by Senseo would be pretty unlikely to succeed in light of Lexmark (and, as you note, common sense), wherein a distinction was drawn between intentional circumvention and the purpose for that circumvention (so, for example, a circumvention device not made for the purpose of infringing copyright might not be a violation of the DMCA). Natrually, I welcome any other reading of the case or further comments you may have! Regards, Jaani

Jaani,. "It is, I think, an interesting example of how legislative mechanisms originally designed to protect digital works could encroach upon other areas." Something like that might happen one day, but do you have any reason to believe that the Senseo is in any way an example of this at all? "Senseo might try to protect their technology from circumvention under the DMCA". The Senseo is protected through patents. There have been court cases over the coffee pads here in Europe even before the Senseo was introduced in the States. The practical upshot is that you have to buy your Senseo from Philips, as no other company is offering anything that's compatible, but you do not have to buy your coffee from Douwe Egberts. You can buy coffee from any brand offering coffee pads, and their number continues to increase. You can easily start your own coffee pad business if you like, you just need to buy an industrial coffee pad creation machine. I've been told about a year ago that they sell for about 50.000 Euri. I don't get your point about "Revealing information (even if already protected by patent or copyright)". Surely, anything protected by patent or copyright is already publicised? Besides, the DMCA is a law of just one country and a controversial one at that. Philips and Douwe Egberts are Dutch companies with an international presence. Messed-up law in one country hardly affects such companies or their competitors. They and their competitors can produce anywhere they like. But what I find truly fascinating is your suggestion that "coffee pads are arguably a kind of hardware". I'd really like to see you make that argument. I'd sooner call it a vegetable than hardware :-) - VegetableProf