Here's a super-easy way to get around Keurig 2.0 DRM restrictions

Photo credit: Keurig

Your old pods and K-cups don't work in Keurig 2.0 machines, but now you can fix that

Good news for owners of Keurig 2.0 machines who don't mind working outside official channels: it's now possible to hack your way around the machines' ridiculous “digital rights management”-style restrictions, so that your old K-cups and non-branded pods will finally work in Keurig 2.0 models, in addition to original Keurigs.

If you have a Keurig 2.0, released since summer 2014, you've noticed that your old K-cups and refillable pods won't work in it. That's not an accident: Keurig deliberately designed its 2.0 machines to only work with pods equipped with the hot-drinks equivalent of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

What does that even mean? To make an analogy: imagine that your oven (or stove, or toaster, or any other kitchen appliance) used to be able to cook any brand of food you put in it. But the new version of your oven was designed to only bake foods officially licensed by the oven manufacturer: if you try using an off-brand cake mix in your new oven, or even your older boxes of manufacturer-approved cake mix, you can't turn the oven on.

That's how Keurig 2.0 machines work: instead of using any pod or K-cup, including those inexpensive refillable ones that work with any brand of coffee, tea or cocoa you like, Keurig 2.0 machines only work with officially branded Keurig pods, which means Keurig doesn't just make money from the sale of its Keurig 2.0 brewing machines, but also collects a licensing fee every single time that machine is used.

At least, that's what Keurig hoped would happen.

Special ink

Keurig released its brand-restricted 2.0 machines last June, and the “RFID/DRM” restrictions turned out to involve a special type of proprietary ink. Although Keurig wouldn't explain the specific details of how it worked, one executive did say that it involved shining infrared light on the ink and measuring the wavelength reflected back.

Why did Keurig make the switch specifically to add restrictions and limitations to its new-model machines? At the time, Keurig executives and spokespeople said the restrictions were intended to protect ordinary consumers from whatever low-quality horrors are inherent in non-Keurig-branded beverage-pod products. Meanwhile, everybody else on the planet suggested it was because Keurig got greedy.

Keurig's patent on K-cup technology expired in 2013, which is why off-brand or refillable K-cup-style coffee pods exploded all over the market since then. That's also why Keurig's fourth-quarter results for fiscal year 2013 suggested that up to 12 percent of all coffee or tea pods brewed in Keurig machines came from “unlicensed third-party” sources.

So Keurig tweaked its machines to ensure that, instead of working with any properly sized pod, they could only work in the presence of special-wavelength infrared ink.

Keurig released the restricted new machines in June, and by the end of August, competing companies had already figured out how to make their own knockoff pods that work in Keurig 2.0 machines (apparently, that ink's special infrared-reflecting quality is pretty easy to imitate if you have the right equipment).

But that still doesn't solve the problem of getting your older K-cups, or non-branded refillable pods, to work in a Keurig 2.0. Luckily, doing that turns out to be even easier than printing with infrared ink.

This week, TheVerge discovered and shared a formerly obscure video which some anonymous genius posted to YouTube, showing exactly how to get around Keurig's carefully researched and expensively developed high-tech 2.0 limitations, and use older or non-branded pods in a Keurig 2.0. The video also features soundtrack music from Star Wars and TheEmpire Strikes Back, movies which tell the the story of a plucky little band of freedom-loving rebels fighting the oppression of a mighty empire.

Here's a rundown of the video's relevant highlights: first, you get an overview of the shiny high-tech Keurig 2.0 machine while Darth Vader's theme song plays. Then somebody – we see only a pair of hands wearing a gold MIT ring – attempts to put an off-brand coffee pod into the 2.0.

The evil-empire music swells in volume as the Keurig 2.0 rejects the old pod, and its screen shows the following message: “Oops! This pack wasn't designed for this brewer. Please try one of the hundreds of packs with the Keurig® logo.”

Then you see spreadsheets detailing how, before Keurig 2.0 machines were introduced, Keurig 1.0 users increasingly turned to “Rebel K-cups … produced and distributed outside of the Keurig/Green Mountain Empire.”

Hence the Keurig 2.0 machines, which won't work with those rebel K-cups. Looks like the Empire won this battle against the rebels!

But keep watching. The soundtrack music changes from the Empire theme to the first stirring, uplifting notes of Star Wars' opening credits, while the video's anonymous coffee rebel takes the label off a specially branded pod that is compatible with Keurig 2.0 machines, puts it on top of the same off-brand pod which the 2.0 had just rejected … and it works! You can use old or off-brand pods and K-cups in new Keurig 2.0 machines! The inspirational music swells in volume again.

As the video continues, it shows how you don't actually need an entire branded-pod label to make this work, only the part printed with the special infrared ink. The coffee rebel cut that part out with scissors, and put it into the machine next to the ink-reader using a small piece of ordinary transparent tape to hold it in place.

A block of text at the video 1:11 mark explains that you need “One (1) piece of TAPE + NOT MUCH AIM: Just get it up in there, over the open rectangle by the reader.”

This little hack is so amazingly simple, it makes you wonder why Keurig thought it would work at all: since the 2.0 machines are designed to work only if it can shine infrared light on a special proprietary label first – well, why couldn't you just get one special proprietary label and re-use it, over and over? And once you know exactly where the 2.0 machines' infrared reader is, taping the infrared-ink part of the label permanently in front of it is simplicity itself.

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