copy prevention

Copy Prevention

Stop Copying of PDFs: Prevent PDF Files from being copied

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Guide to copy prevention: prevent information copying

Copy prevention is something that is easier said than done.  To quote Steve Mathews, “Computing is all about copying”.  It doesn’t matter when or how you enter or view (or hear) information on a computer, it is as a result of being copied.

So copy prevention – preventing someone from being able to make a separate copy of information is not very easy and people providing that service can get it very wrong.

  DAT, CD, and DVD copy prevention

There have been some very interesting developments in the CD and DVD industries where they have come up with ways of putting information on those devices that makes it very difficult to copy them successfully.  But, as with many things, making something difficult to copy successfully and achieving copy prevention are different things.

To take a practical example, in the CD/DVD industry there was an attempt to prevent people from being able to play information if the hardware they were using did not originate in the same geographic region as the CD/DVD was encoded for.  This required controls to be built into hardware devices and also into software.  So those industries were exposed to the willingness of many manufacturers to implement controls that met their copy prevention controls.

But things didn’t always work out how they planned.

Digital audio tape (DAT) was the first real attempt to introduce very strong controls to prevent copying.  These were so strong that users could not guarantee to be able to copy their own recordings, never mind recordings from other sources.  And solely because of the copy prevention system, DAT never became a commercial success in the consumer marketplace, and now lives, if at all, only in commercial studios.  And the manufacturers lost significant sums of money as a result.

Regional controls on CDs and DVDs was an attempt to introduce use controls to ensure that you could only use a work in the region in which it was sold.  This was not copy prevention per se, but it limited the market that copies could be sold into, trying to make copying less commercially valuable to the copier.  It failed because the manufacturer’s of players found that consumers would not accept this restriction because consumers took the view that what they had purchased fairly they had a right to view, and that the player manufacturer did not have the right to make artificial distinctions.  One result of this was a French law requiring player manufacturers to make machines that would play all formats regardless of security settings!  The end result has been that manufacturers have made multi-region players available, thus achieving their (and the consumers who are their customers) market demands and the IPR owners found that they had to give way or watch their own markets fall apart because they did not have a strong enough economic case with the consumers.

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  Document copy prevention

Preventing people from making usable copies of documents is critical to achieving effective document security.  Copy prevention may be achieved in a number of ways.  For example:

  1. In Microsoft Azure RMS you have a complex collaboration infrastructure using cryptographic controls allowing protected documents to be modified by authorized users and circulated within defined groups of users.  It also allows for ‘transitive controls’ where a recipient is able to grant new rights to users, or even allow them to redefine previous controls in their own environment(s).   This has tight integration with Microsoft Office applications and requires careful configuration.  An attack in 2016 showed that authorized users could remove the protection, thus rendering it useless.
  2. In PDF protection systems using passwords (based upon the Adobe standard) copying is not prevented, but instead focuses on the the ability to edit and print a PDF.  If a user must enter a password to open a PDF document they can pass it on to anyone they choose rendering the copy prevention useless.  Permissions to prevent editing and printing can be instantly removed using free online tools.
  3. More sophisticated PDF DRM systems such as that implemented by Locklizard, copying is not forbidden, but using a copy is licensed through cryptographic controls – unless a user has been authorized they cannot view it.  Users are not allowed to edit protected documents nor can they grant other users rights to documents.  Users do not have Save or Save As functionality or copy and paste available.  Document printing is controlled and watermarking may be added to viewed pages and printed copies to resist photocopying or photography as a means of copying.  Finally, in a DRM based system license checking and document use dates may be used to prevent access to documents and thus prevent document copying.

  Effective copy prevention controls

So copy prevention controls, if they are to be effective and accepted, must not seek to introduce controls that effectively prevent legitimate users from using the rights that they have purchased.  But one has to be careful to look into what are the commercial and social factors that one must take into account, and understand that these may be different for different specific types of IPR.

An alternative way of achieving copy prevention is not to prevent it at all, but to make the copy of no value if the user is not licensed to use it.  This might sound a bit esoteric, but if the person who has purchased something is able to copy it freely, say for backup purposes, and may use any of their copies at any time, but other people are not able to use those copies, then you have achieved unlicensed copy prevention, which might actually be the real objective.

Using Safeguard PDF security to prevent PDFs from being copied

How to prevent a PDF from being copied

Select your PDF file(s), then in Safeguard Secure PDF Writer, choose the copy prevention you want to apply:

  1. Stop printing, allow printing or limit the number of prints.
  2. Add dynamic watermarks to viewed and or printed pages.  Dynamic variables replace actual user and system data when the document is viewed/printed so you only have to protect the document once for all users.
  3. Make the PDF expire on a specific date, after a number of views, after a number of prints, or after a number of days from opening.
  4. Prevent screen grabbing applications from taking screenshots and prevent use of Windows print screen.
  5. Track and log document views and prints to see how documents are being used.
Safeguard’s default document copy prevention
  • Stops users editing content
  • Prevents copy and paste
  • Users cannot save PDFs to unprotected file formats
  • Locks PDF files to specific devices so they cannot be shared
  • There are no passwords for users to enter, manage, or remove
  • Revoke PDFs at any time regardless of where they reside

Copy Prevention Technology

Components you should expect a good copy prevention system to consist of.

  • Encryption

    Used to encode content so that it is only usable if the recipient has the correct key.

    Encryption is also used to lock content to specific devices.

  • Licensing

    Enables content to be linked to a user so you can control access and use at the user level.

  • Watermarks

    Watermarks can be used to make copying difficult (static watermarks) or to identify a user (dynamic watermarks).

    • Dynamic watermarks may be used as a form of copy prevention, because the individual allowing the watermarked document to be copied is also associating their own identity with it, and they most likely do not want to be identified as the source of copied materials.
    • Static watermarks make copying difficult by using background images that blend with the content – e.g. a diffraction or Moire fringe pattern.
  • Other Security Mechanisms

    Used to control Operating System behaviour.  For example stopping screen grabbing and identifying physical printers vs file printers.


Can you prevent images from being copied on a website?

No, while you can use JavaScript to disable copy and paste in the browser, this can be easily defeated by users removing the code in the browser console.  Users can also take screenshots using screen grabbing utilities such as Windows Snipping Tool.

While you cannot prevent images from being copied from a website, you can make it more difficult by adding visible or hidden watermarks.

Can you prevent copying and pasting from a scanned PDF?

No, a protected PDF that is printed and then scanned will have no copy protection.  If you want to prevent copying and pasting of a scanned PDF then the simplest solution is to disable printing.

How can you prevent a PDF from being copied?

You have to add DRM controls since password protecting a PDF is useless – users can remove the copy protection in seconds using free online password recovery tools.

Locklizard enables you to prevent PDFs from being copied without using passwords.  It uses US Gov strength encryption, secure and transparent key management, DRM and licensing controls to ensure your PDF files are copy protected regardless of their location.

Does Locklizard prevent copy and paste in PDF files?

Yes.  Users cannot copy or paste content.  We also block screenshotting and printing to PDF (if printing is allowed).

Does Locklizard prevent duplicate copies of PDF files being made?

No, you cannot prevent users from making duplicate copies (i.e. backups) of a digital file.  However all copies are protected PDF files that can only be opened by an authorized user and all DRM controls are enforced.

Can you prevent copying of images in Adobe Acrobat?

No, all content can be copied and pasted, including images.

Does Locklizard prevent copy and paste in PDF files on Mac?

Yes, we prevent copy and paste in PDF on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android operating systems.

Can you prevent copy and paste in Google Docs?

No.  At its core, Google Docs uses JavaScript to enforce its controls, which you can bypass by appending “/mobilebasic” to your URL and then disabling JavaScript in the developer console.  Users can then copy and paste the contents into a new Google Doc to use as they like.

Can you prevent someone from copying a Word document?

You can use Microsoft RMS to discourage copying.  However a user who has been given access to the document can remove the copy prevention controls.

   Download PDF copy prevention software

Download PDF copy prevention software with digital rights management (DRM) controls that prevent PDFs from being copied (ebooks, reports, elearning courses, etc.).  Prevent copying of files and unauthorized sharing of your content.  Stop printing, editing, copy & pasting, and screen grabbing.  Lock PDFs to devices and locations to prevent sharing.

Control what users can view your documents, what they can do with them (copy, print, etc.), where they can view them, and when they can no longer be used (automatically expire and instantly revoke documents and users).

Stop sensitive information from being copied, prevent copying of ebook and elearing course content, and stop users sharing documents with others.

DRM copy prevention software that ensures the security and use of your PDF files regardless of their location.

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