The suit was filed in California on behalf of two customers who purchased HP's 4020I and 6020I CD-R drives, said their attorney, Jonathan Shub.
CD-R drives can record data to a CD-ROM disc once, unlike CD-RW drives, which can record, erase, and re-record data. The suit alleges that the drives stop recording before the CD has reached full capacity because of a faulty spring inside the drive. The problem usually occurs at the same point in the recording process, and information already burned onto the CD may be lost.
HP says the suit relates to an old problem that is being handled on a case-by case bases.
"The 'write append error' we see with the 4020, what we've done to alleviate the error is to replace one spring with two springs," in later versions, said an HP spokesperson who would not comment on the merits of the lawsuit.
"If that is the issue, then our customer support people are taking care of it, and [have been] dealing with it for 6 months."
These HP drives are the subject of fierce criticism on Internet newsgroups and Web sites, drawing complaints about the so-called "write append errors."
"When I try to burn a CD, 9 out of 10 CD's fail because of an 'error reported by SCSI device,'" wrote one customer to an Internet newsgroup. "These CD's all fail at approximately the same place on the CD."
Similar problems have also been reported with drives from Philips, who reportedly is one of HP's manufacturers.
Philips is the subject of a separate lawsuit. "A similar suit was filed against Philips," Shub said. "These two HP products were licensed from Philips. HP licensed the technology and put their own name on the product."
Industry sources confirm that HP does in fact get their drives from Philips, as well as other manufacturers. HP would not comment on its relationships with manufacturers.
Stephen Smith and Dan Fair, the plaintiffs in the case against HP, both complained to the company about problems with the drives, Shub said, and eventually decided to file suit in an effort to force the company to "provide all purchasers of the product with a product that performs reliably and in accordance with industry standard," according to Shub. No damages are specified.
Both the 4020I and 6020I have been "obsoleted," according to HP, meaning they were phased out over a year ago. "That doesn't mean we don't support those drives; we work with whatever customer calls up with an issue," the HP spokesperson asserted.
Even so, newsgroups are still full of disgruntled customers. "Unless you're into masochism, I would stay away from the (Philips) CDD2000 drive," wrote one reader on a peripherals newsgroup. "That drive, and it's twin, the HP 4020 have been a source of constant pain for a lot of unwary users (myself included)."
"The drives in question have been talked about for years on end now on the Internet (especially the newsgroups)," wrote one CNET News.com reader in an email. "Both models have been known to become defective due to faulty spring mechanisms and overheating over an extended use time."
"It's like buying a cassette, and never being able to record a full 60 minutes," Shub said. "With a CD, if you're trying to record 74 minutes, and it breaks at the 60 minute point, and it won't allow you to read the data you've recorded, then you have a coaster," he said, alluding to its lack of utility.
"This should go forward on behalf of customers of HP," Shub said.