Adapted from a comment on the CBC Spark blog, this piece was featured in online version of The Georgia Straight.

To the honourable member from Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam:

I applaud your enthusiasm for protecting the property rights of your constituents and Canadians at large. Your recent performance has demonstrated your courage and zeal. I do, however, have one consideration to offer. I hope I can communicate in a way that you perceive as neither too technical nor too extremist.

My consideration concerns proposed legislation to outlaw the circumvention of so-called digital locks by individual people or their agents, on their own property, for their own private purposes. My concern is not about a right to deprive others of revenue, but my right to command my own private property, consistent with the founding principles of the party which you represent.

In recent decades it has become extremely advantageous for manufacturers of numerous modern consumer and industrial goods to turn from plain mechanical or electronic devices to computers with commodity attachments. A car is now a computer with wheels. A camera is now a computer with optics. A telephone is now a computer with a mic. This technology enables manufacturers to create, with much less overhead, products that can perform any trick the attached hardware affords them. This is generally good for the consumers of these products.

The principal side effect is that these products are now worthless without software to drive them. The agreement around this software is separate from the purchase of the physical product, yet through this mechanism it is effectively tied. Purchasing a computer-driven device entails agreeing in full to the terms of the manufacturer regarding how that device ought to behave. Before computer-driven devices, the risk to the consumer was a product that didn't behave as advertised. Now, the risk is that a product behaves in ways that are not advertised.

Fortunately, a great many of these products can be audited by sufficiently-skilled people, who can disable unwanted behaviour or replace it entirely, and share their results on whatever terms they please to others who are interested. The only measure that would prevent them from doing so is the outlawing of the circumvention of digital locks, which as of now I will call by the industry term Digital Rights Management, or DRM.

To be sure, it is this attaching of strings, a mere side effect of progress, which is eroding the notion of personal property in our great country. However, until the manufacturers of these products, across so many affected industries, can respond in a way that suits them economically, circumvention is the only protection from this erosion. To outlaw it is not only to call into question the value placed on the personal property of ordinary Canadians by this government, but also its strategy of propping up what is widely understood by industry professionals to be a fantasy.

The fantasy of which I speak is that information of any kind can be protected effectively by technical measures when it is in possession of somebody other than the person interested in protecting it. It is nothing short of a law of nature that makes these locks cheaper to circumvent than to enforce, as any computer program can be reliably fooled about its environment. DRM is a quixotic arms race against economic, mathematical and physical reality.

This is where the term digital lock departs from an unbiased attempt to relate to non-experts. We understand a lock as a means of protecting our own property from trespass, vandalism and theft, and to signal our intent to do so. We have laws penalizing those who ignore this signal. However, the cost of locking a piece of property is borne on the person who sees fit to protect it, the site of any infringement is the property itself, and the risk of material loss to this person is nearly always the price of a new lock in the very least.

In contrast, the cost of enforcing DRM-protected information is overwhelmingly borne by everybody but its author, hobbling the property of the majority to serve the interests — not exclusively copyright interests — of what is ultimately a minority. Moreover, if you purchase an object which is ultimately still under the control of the one who sold it to you, do you really own it? Is it really your property if it can betray you and obey somebody else? We see this behaviour already with locked mobile phones and HD cabling boondoggles among numerous other common examples. It does not benefit the consumer one iota to have these locks in place.

I can understand content producers signalling their intent to exercise rights over their intellectual property and can respect it voluntarily, but an anti-circumvention legislation would mandate that respect at the cost of my rights to my property. That, or make me a criminal to cause the equipment I work hard to pay for, and pay taxes on, to behave exclusively according to my interests and nobody else's.

Thank you for your attention.