PDF Copy Prevention

Stop Copying of PDF files: How to prevent PDF from being copied

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Using Safeguard PDF security to prevent PDF files from being copied

Creating a copy protected PDF with Locklizard is simple but very effective.  Rather than seeking to stop file copying, it locks the file’s opening to authorized devices and implements additional copy-paste, print, editing, and screenshot prevention controls.  Here’s how it works:

  How to prevent a PDF from being copied

  1. Right-click on a PDF and select “Make secure PDF”.
  2. Protect the PDF from copying by ticking the relevant controls.  We recommend that you add a watermark to discourage sharing.  Safeguard creates permanent dynamic watermarks that identify users and their devices.  To prevent scanned copies, you should also consider adding a moiré image watermark.
  3. Locklizard PDF will automatically users from copying text and images, but you may want to take additional steps to protect your PDF from screen capture.  Without screen capture protection, a user can screengrab your PDF and import it into an optical character recognition tool to make the text editable.  To prevent this, open the “Environment Controls” tab and tick “Disallow screen capture” and optionally “Add screen mask” which covers the viewer window with an image if the focus is moved away from it.
  4. Press the “Publish” button at the bottom of the dialog.

    Locklizard will automatically protect a PDF from copying and editing on publication.  These restrictions can’t be removed.  On publication, your document will output to its source folder in the .pdc file format and you can safely share it knowing that nobody can access it without a valid license.
  5. Add a user account and send them their license via the Safeguard admin portal.

    With the PDF published, you’ll need to send your recipients the encrypted .pdc file, alongside a download link for the secure PDF reader application and a valid license.  The simplest way of doing so is by ticking “Email license” when you add a new user.  See how to add a new user and grant them document access.

  Safeguard’s PDF copy protection

As well as preventing unauthorized users from opening a protected PDF, Locklizard provides numerous controls to prevent a PDF from being copied:

  • Prevents copy and paste
  • Stops users editing content
  • Prevents printing
  • Prevents printing to PDF and other file drivers if you allow prints
  • Prevents screenshots by blocking screen grabbing and Windows print screen
  • PDF content can be watermarked with user information to deter photos or photocopies from being shared
  • 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, share, or remove

Copy protected PDF files can only be opened in the Locklizard secure PDF Viewer which enforces the above controls, which cannot be removed.

How to prevent anybody from copy and pasting from a scanned PDF

There are of course instances where you cannot just disable printing entirely.  Printed copies may be required for physical backups, distribution during meetings, and more.  In this scenario, it gets harder to stop the creation of useful copies.  You have to find a way to stop anybody from copy and pasting from a scanned PDF by running it through an OCR tool.

There is unfortunately no entirely foolproof way to achieve this.  The simple fact is that allowing printed copies makes you more vulnerable to copying, whether it’s through scanned images or text that has been copy and pasted from them.  That said, the use of so-called Moiré or fringe patterns can significantly reduce the chances that optical character recognition tools are successful by reducing the quality of the scan.  This makes creating an editable copy of the document time-consuming, with lots of manual editing of the OCR output potentially required.

Adding dynamic watermarks can also help prevent copying.  A watermarked document with the recipient’s name can deter users from sharing printed copies as it identifies them as the source.

  Preventing copying of documents & information

Copy prevention 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.

Copy prevention, then – preventing a separate copy of information – is not an easy feat.  Those providing copy prevention software or services need to be very purposeful, as it is all too easy to get wrong.

   Historical copy prevention

As one of the first targets of digital piracy, the CD and DVD industries quickly came up with ways of putting information on those formats that made it very difficult to copy them successfully.  But making something difficult to copy successfully and achieving copy prevention are two different things.

In the CD/DVD industry there was an attempt to stop people from being able to play the discs if the hardware they were using did not originate in the same region that they were encoded for.  This required controls to be built into hardware devices, but also into software.  As a result, those industries were exposed to the willingness (or not) of many manufacturers to implement controls that met their copy prevention needs.

Digital audio tape (DAT) was the first real attempt to introduce strong controls to prevent copying.  These were so strong that users were not guaranteed the ability to copy their own recordings, never mind recordings from other sources.  Solely because of the copy prevention system, DAT never became a commercial success in the consumer marketplace.

So, what can we learn from this?  Any limitation on consumer content, whether regional controls or copy prevention, must maintain the functions that users expect. Applying harsh restrictions reduces the value proposition of that content for the consumer – they pay the same amount and get less functionality for it. Lose the acceptance of the consumer, and you lose the market.  Copy prevention must be therefore implemented in a thoughtful way that fits both the medium and consumer sentiment.

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  Document copy prevention

In modern document copy prevention systems, the focus is on is preventing people from making usable copies of documents rather than stopping copying entirely.  Copy prevention may be achieved in a number of ways:

  1. In Microsoft Azure RMS, you have a complex collaboration infrastructure using cryptographic controls that allow protected documents to be modified by authorized users and circulated within defined user groups.  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 – the focus instead is on the ability to edit and print a PDF.  Though a user must enter a password to open a PDF document, they can pass it on to anyone they choose, rendering the protection useless.  Permissions to prevent editing and printing can also be instantly removed using free online tools without the permissions password.
  3. In more sophisticated PDF DRM solutions such as Locklizard, making a copy of a PDF file is not forbidden, but the copy made is useless – the use of a copy is licensed through cryptographic controls and 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.  There is no Save or Save As functionality and we prevent copy and paste so users cannot copy content from PDF documents.  Document printing is prevented or 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 unauthorized access to documents and thus prevent document copying.

  Effective copy prevention controls

Copy prevention controls, if they are to be effective and accepted, must not seek to introduce restrictions that prevent legitimate users from utilizing the rights that they have purchased.  One has to be careful to research the commercial and social factors and understand that these may be different for different types of IPR.

The easiest way of achieving copy prevention is to not prevent file copying at all.  Instead, you can make the copy of no value if the user is not licensed.  This might sound a bit esoteric, but if the person who has purchased something is able to backup freely and use these copies at any time, but other people cannot, then you have achieved unlicensed copy prevention, which might be the true objective.

Copy Prevention Technology

Components you should expect a good PDF copy prevention system to consist of include:

  • 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 behavior.  For example, preventing screen grabbing and identifying physical printers vs file printers so that users cannot print to PDF and other file formats.


How can I prevent copying or printing of a PDF online?

This is more difficult than you might expect.  Browsers just do not have sufficient control over the operating system to prevent screenshots, removal of controls via JavaScript, editing, and printing to a PDF.

Protection beyond your standard browser PDF reader is possible, however. Safeguard’s secure browser-based viewer allows admins to enforce a single session per user and only decrypts content in memory so that content cannot be recovered from the browser’s cache.

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.

If you must allow printing then a watermarked document with the recipient’s name will discourage sharing.

How can you prevent a PDF from being copied?

You have to add DRM (Digital Rights Management) controls since PDF password protection is useless – users can remove the copy protection in seconds using a free online tool or password recovery software.

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.  We protect files from the copying of text or printing.  We also prevent screenshots, editing, printing, 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 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 of images in Adobe Acrobat?

No, Adobe does not prevent copy paste just like all other PDF software that uses passwords for protection.  All content can be copied and pasted, including images.

Can you use a plugin to Acrobat Reader to prevent copying of content

The problems with plugins is that they easily break – they can be circumvented by other plugins or fail to work when Acrobat Reader is updated.  So while they may seem like a simple solution, they are not very effective.

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 Google Docs does not prevent copying.  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 from 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.

Can watermarks be used as a copy deterrent?

Only if they identify the user and cannot be easily removed.  Adobe watermarks, Word, Excel and other Office watermarks, and Google Docs watermarks are useless since they can all be easily removed.

   Download PDF copy prevention software

Download PDF copy prevention software with digital rights management (DRM) controls that prevent PDFs from being copied (ebooks, reports, e-learning 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 PDF files from being copied, prevent copying of ebook and e-learning 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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