Monday, February 21, 2011

Under the table and DRMing

I was in a meeting at work the other day when someone emitted a sentence that started this way:

I got some information DRM'd to me that …

It took me a second to parse this. (In fact, I think I got so interested in DRM'd that might have missed what it was that had in fact been DRM'd.)

DRM stands for digital rights management, which is a blanket term for protecting (or "protecting," if you want to be more cynical) digital media like, say, music files or movies. Let's say for convenience that it means something like "restrict." It's a pretty easy leap to turn this into a verb, and indeed, Mr. Google tells us that there are several hundred thousand instances of the term DRM'd . (Exercise for the student: calculate the percentage of these mentions in which the term is used in a positive way, haha.)

What threw me in the particular usage I heard, tho, was that DRM was being used as a verb that meant more than just "restricted": the information had been DRM'd to the recipient. This, I think, requires a particular context to make sense, a context that happens to obtain where I work, but probably is not all that widespread. (Maybe it is; y'all can tell me.)

Our email system at work is based on Microsoft Exchange and uses Microsoft Outlook as its client. This combination of technologies supports a feature named Information Rights Management whereby the author of an email can set restrictions/permissions on an email message for who can see it, and which restricts things like whether you can forward the message or even copy from it.

By saying I got information DRM'd to me, our interlocutor had managed to compress into this one verb that a) she had received an email via Outlook that b) had been tagged with IRM permissions because c) it had "eyes only" information, and that d) she could not forward us this information.

If was pretty good information density for an off-the-cuff remark. I have not (that I know of) heard DRM used as a verb in exactly this way before. It might be a one-off that occurred to her in the moment. Even if it is more widespread than that, this exact usage seems like it would be restricted to a limited context in which all of the conditions (permissions + Outlook) apply.