Several Suggestions for Copy Protecting PDF Files. Good. Better. Best.

When considering PDF copy protectionthere are several options out there. This article will summarize some of those options to help a content owner (you) navigate to the best solution for your situation. A couple of definitions we should review before moving along to the reviews:

  • Encryption is not the same as copy protection. Encryption is the technology where a password is used to protect the PDF file. Once the password is entered the user can do anything they wish with the file. The idea behind encryption is a document being protected and un-viewable or usable until a password is entered.
  • Copy protection goes about things a different way. Copy protection will allow anyone to see the file, without a password, yet the PDF document is still protected. Meaning, the file cannot be copied, printed, shared or screen captured even though everyone can view the file. When people are searching for PDF copy protection, this is the solution most likely sought after.

PDF or Portable Document Format is an open standard. What this means is the document format was designed to be used so when a file is created the fonts, images and other components which make up the document are universal to any viewer. For example, if a specific font was used, the user would not need that font installed on their computer for it to display properly. The goal for the PDF specification was to make the format as universal as possible. For this reason, it is a bit more difficult to copy protect a PDF file than one would think.

Windows comes pre-installed with Adobe Reader. Even if Adobe Reader was not installed on your computer, or uninstalled, the underlying code is still there to open a PDF as the Windows operating system includes Adobe API code which it can call upon and use to open a document. Adobe Reader is the #1 PDF reader in the market but there are also dozens of other PDF readers you can find on the web. The ultimate goal of course, is for any of these readers to open the PDF and displayed as intended by the content owner (you).

Adobe copy protection – Good

Adobe offers a host of security features and functions to their PDF documents, unfortunately it is very well known for Adobe solutions to be cracked. If you Google “Adobe copy protection crack” you will find pages of ways the Adobe security features are compromised. Here and here are two examples of search results giving hackers a solution to crack the Adobe protection schemes.

Adobe is a good solution if you need something quick, inexpensive and the overall concern of security is not paramount. If you are a content owner who needs a strong “deterrent” from the file being copied, Adobe is a good starting point.

The fundamental problem with copy protection are the lack of controls a content owner has for when a user is viewing the PDF. Said another way, a content owner (you) does not have the control over how Adobe Reader blocks the user from doing certain functions like print, save, share and screen capture.

The idea behind a PDF copy protection solution is a framework where the PDF can be opened and viewed, while you (the content owner) maintains complete control of the document.

With the above in mind, it is difficult to provide a PDF reader with these security functions. Most users who receive a PDF do not want to download and install a second program just to read a PDF file. However, if you are open to that idea the next best solution is Lock Lizard

Lock Lizard is a better solution

Lock Lizard provides a process to set DRM (Digital Rights Management) to the PDF as a content owner and provides a reader program to view the PDF with those same security features intact. This is a good alternative to Adobe, but requires some additional work by the user.

The user is required to install the Lock Lizard viewer program. Typically this isn’t a big deal, but does pose as a problem for those who work in a corporate environment. Most corporations do not give employees Administrator rights to install programs. The bottom line is an IT manager would be required to intervene and perform the software installation. So the Portable Document Format is no longer as portable!

Copy Secure by Nexcopy is best solution

The Copy Secure solution by Nexcopy is a USB flash drive which is a physical device that provides PDF copy protection without the requirement of installing a program. Truth be told, the solution is a copy protected device, not a copy protected file. We can say this because the physical device is the digital key to controlling the PDF file and how it is viewed.

True the USB drive must be shipped to the customer, but in exchange you (the content owner) will have the most secure solution for you PDF document. In addition, the Copy Secure drive comes pre-loaded with PDF readers for both Mac and Windows computers. The pre-loaded reader runs 100% from the flash drive and does not require Admin rights to install it or run it. The Portable Document Format is restored to all its glory!

The secure PDF reader on the Copy Secure drive is coded and locked to the device itself. So even if a hacker downloads the viewer application which runs directly from the flash drive (no installation required) they still won’t have the tools needed to unlock the PDF and control it. The USB is also write protected so the user cannot delete or format the USB stick and remove the PDF file. The document is permanently on the flash drive. With the other two solutions, Adobe and Lock Lizard, it is very possible the PDF is deleted and thus requires post-sales follow up by you, the content owner.

PDF copy protection

The viewer blocks any attempt to print, either to PDF or to a physical printer. Copy Secure does not allow for saving, screen capture or sharing of any kind. With the Nexcopy solution, the PDF follows the USB drive and may be accessed from any computer. No need to download a PDF viewer for each operating system, simply insert the Copy Secure USB drive and access the file.

block screen grab of PDF

Copy Secure has additional digital rights management features. For example, the content owner can assign an expiration date to viewing of the file. This restricts the user (maybe your client or customer or student) from accessing the PDF after a specific date. The password feature, so familiar with encryption can also be used with the Nexcopy PDF copy protection. Now there are two layers of protection for the content owner! First, the user must enter the correct password before the PDF is displayed. Second, once the PDF is displayed the file is still copy protected. Even the most trusted user cannot print, save or screen capture the PDF.

In conclusion: The word of copy protection provides a host of different solutions for protect a PDF file. Which solution best fits your needs will depend on your situation. The Adobe solution is the least expensive and easy to use. The Lock Lizard solution is a bit more expensive and based of a licensing program with recurring fees. The Copy Secure solution by Nexcopy is less than Lock Lizard and provides the most secure method for copy protecting PDF files.