Copy Protect PDF Files

PDF Copy Protection: Protect PDF Files from copying without passwords

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Not all PDF copy protection is equal

  1. Passwords are useless – once the user has the password, they can unprotect the PDF and do what they like with it
  2. Adobe PDF permissions (stop copy, edit, print etc.) can be removed instantly or simply ignored by Viewer applications
  3. Plugins to Adobe Acrobat don’t always work – they can be circumvented by other plugins and stop working after updates
  4. Browser based solutions (used by secure data rooms) rely on passwords and weak JavaScript protection

“We would really recommend Safeguard PDF Security to every publishing company for managing their ePubs or e-books securely.

Before using this PDF DRM product we were mainly worried about our valuable data, unauthorized use and data piracy.  But after implementing this product we have overcome all those issues and managing our e-books has become an easy task.

Safeguard has an easy to use interface to copy protect PDF files, and it is simple to distribute them to our authorized customers only.  Also the prompt response and less turnaround time form Locklizard sales team provided a good customer support experience.”

How to Copy Protect PDF files without password protection using Safeguard DRM security

How to protect PDF from copying text, images & printing

Safeguard PDF Security protects PDF files from the copying of text, printing and screenshots so that users cannot share content with others.

  • Stops the copying of text and images
  • Stops the editing of text and copying & pasting of content
  • Prevents printing of PDF files
  • Stops the saving of a protected PDF file to other file formats
  • Stops screen grabbing applications from taking screenshots (Windows and third-party)
  • Locks PDF files to devices so they cannot be shared with others
  • There are no passwords for users to enter, manage, share or remove
  • Revoke PDF files at any time regardless of where they reside

Additionally, you can:

  1. 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.
  2. Make the PDF expire on a fixed date, after a number of views or prints, or after a number of days from opening.
  3. Track PDF use – log document views and prints.
  4. Lock PDF files to locations.

How to protect a PDF from being copied with Safeguard:
  1. To create a copy protected PDF file, right-click on a PDF and select ‘Make Secure PDF”.
  2. Select the copy protection controls you want to apply.  We recommend that you add a watermark to identify users.  Safeguard creates permanent dynamic watermarks that cannot be removed using PDF editing software.
  3. Locklizard will automatically prevent users from copying text and images, but you may want to take additional steps to protect from screen capture.  Without screen capture protection, a user can screengrab your document 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 focus is moved away from it.
  4. Press the “Publish” button at the bottom of the window.

    Your protected file will output to its source folder in the .pdc 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.

You’ll need to send your recipients the DRM protected file, alongside a download link for the secure 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.

DRM controls to protect PDFs from copying

  • Prevent printing

    Stopping users from printing a PDF is one of the most effective ways of preventing copies of your PDF documents from being circulated, since printed documents can be readily photocopied or scanned and then duplicated.  By default, Locklizard disables printing.

    However, it may be a requirement to let users print.  If you want to allow printing, then you can apply secure watermarks to discourage distribution of printed copies.  You can also limit the number of high-quality prints allowed, enforce greyscale or black & white printing, and log prints so you can track when your PDFs are being printed, by who and when.

    Locklizard’s copy protection software automatically prevents printing to PDF drivers, XPS files and other file formats so secure PDFs cannot be readily converted back to PDFs.

  • Permanent & Dynamic Watermarks

    To further discourage copying and sharing of PDF content, you can add dynamic watermarks that automatically insert the user’s name, email, company name, and a date/time stamp at view/print time.  This ensures that the user of those documents is clearly identifiable.

    By using dynamic variables, you only have to protect one PDF document for all users.  With Acrobat PDF security you have to protect each PDF document individually for each user in order to customize it with their user details.

    Locklizard watermarks are also permanent and cannot be removed in a PDF editor.

  • Prevent sharing

    If you use password protection to copy protect PDF files, then users can easily share both the PDF file and the password with others or just remove it.  Any restrictions you apply to prevent copying, editing and printing can be instantly removed using free online password removal tools.

    Unauthorized recipients won’t be able to open Locklizard protected PDFs since they are encrypted.  To open the PDF, the user has to be authorized to view it.  If a user has been authorized to view it, then that PDF is locked to their device and will not open if copied to another.  There are no passwords or codes for users to enter – keys are transparently and securely transferred to authorized devices and locked to them.

  What is PDF copy protection?

PDF copy protection is one aspect of PDF security and PDF digital rights management and is the process of applying copy protection controls to PDF documents.  In PDF digital rights management systems it is used to:

  • prevent users selecting and copying and pasting content into other applications
  • prevent screen grabbing (copying and pasting of screen content)
  • prevent printing and editing of content
  • lock PDF files to authorized devices to prevent users sharing protected PDF files

What is copy protection?

Copy protection is the Holy Grail of the music and film industries.  There have been attempts to make DAT tapes, and then CDs, and DVDs, and now MP3 uncopyable.  These industry attempts have been notable only in their lack of success.

At the heart of the problem is that everything on a computer is a copy – there are no originals!  To play a music file, or watch a video, or read a PDF document, it MUST be copied on the computer.

It follows that, no matter how hard you might try, something that must be copied in order to be used can also be copied! After all, you can play a music CD and record the output from the speakers if you want to, and no copy protection system on earth can stop you.  It’s just a matter of convenience and quality.

So, PDF copy protection cannot rely upon the idea that you can stop people copying computer files.  It’s just plain stupid.

Do you need copy protection?

Now that you know what copy protection is, you may be wondering if you really need it. Creators, after all, have more tools at their fingers than the constraints software can provide. One of those is the ability to register their copyright for a particular work.

Registering copyright is an important step. It allows you to better enforce your inherent artistic rights. You should not, however, assume that it removes any need for copy protection. If you are selling a work or trying to maintain association with a publicly accessible one, PDF copy protection is a good idea.

Why? Once your work has been distributed by an unauthorized party, it’s very hard to undo. Trying to remove every copy of a file across the internet is just as futile as trying to stop it from being copied in the first place. Though you can file a DMCA request, most piracy sites will refuse to comply with them anyway.

It’s much better if you can either make copies of the file useless to others in the first place or, failing that, find a way to identify the original distributor so that you can sue for damages. In many industries, such tools are essential to a business’s survival.

How do you protect PDF files from copying & printing?

Well, the first thing to do is make sure that the file that people have access to cannot be used without some other information.  If you don’t do that, then you have no copy protection at all.  Because you cannot prevent people from copying the file you have to prevent them from being able to make any use of it.

Normally this is done using PDF encryption.  This technique means that whilst people can readily copy PDF files, they cannot use the copied file because it is still encrypted. The encryption renders it a useless pile of numbers and letters.

Thus, PDF copy protection is not obtained just by trying to prevent people from copying physical files, but by making sure that the digital files they copy are of no use unless they also have some additional information that they cannot pass on.  Specifically, the cryptographic key(s) used to decrypt the files must not be shared.  This is achieved by making sure the decryption key is not seen by people and by ‘locking’ it to individual computers.  This is a critical feature of any PDF copy protection software.

Protecting PDF files with passwords is therefore useless – it does not provide any copy protection because in order to view the PDF a user must enter a password. If they know this, then they can give it to others along with the ‘protected’ PDF file or just remove the copy protection from the PDF in a PDF editor or password removal application.

PDF copy protection and DRM security

Apart from being able to stop unauthorized users from opening protected PDF files you also need to implement additional controls to prevent the copying of content when that PDF is viewed and or printed.

A good PDF digital rights management system should stop the following:
  1. editing of content
  2. screen shots – both print screen and screen grabber applications
  3. copying and pasting of content
  4. saving protected content to unprotected files (i.e. Save As)
  5. printing
  6. printing to file drivers (if printing is allowed)
  7. storing unprotected content to temporary files on disk
And ensure that:
  1. PDF documents are locked to authorized devices so that users cannot gain unauthorized access
  2. Keys to unlock protected PDF files are transparently relayed to authorized devices and stored securely
  3. Content is only ever decrypted in memory
  4. Dynamic watermarks can be added to documents so that user information is displayed on viewed and/or printed content
  5. Documents can automatically expire after a given time and that you can manually revoke access regardless of where PDF documents are located
  6. Document use can be logged so that any unusual behaviour can be detected and acted on – e.g. instantly revoking access
  7. PDFs can be locked to locations so documents cannot be used outside these locations.  For example, you may want users to be able to view PDF files on their tablet devices but only at the office.

  Why Locklizard Viewers protect PDF files from copying better than other PDF Readers

Locklizard uses its own secure PDF Viewers to achieve a higher level of copy protection than other PDF security systems.  PDF content cannot be compromised by other applications or the common Adobe PDF security flaws and cracks.

NO Plug-ins
PDF copy protection is not compromised by plug-in failures or conflicts.  Plug-ins are potentially so insecure that we prevent them from loading so they can’t compromise security.  See Adobe PDF plug-in vulnerabilities.
NO JavaScript
JavaScript is one of the commonest forms of malicious attack.  We do not allow JavaScript to run in any of our installed Viewers since it can seriously compromise user’s computers and leave you liable to lawsuits – see PDF security issues.
NO Adobe Acrobat
We don’t have to update our PDF security product every time Adobe updates Acrobat in order for it to work.  We don’t rely on the Adobe Viewer at any time or the Adobe Security Handler due to multiple security issues.
NO Passwords
NO passwords are required to grant access to protected PDF content.  Users therefore cannot use password crackers to remove copy protection functionality.
NO temporary files
PDF documents are only ever decrypted on-the-fly in memory and decrypted content is never saved to temporary files.

For a more detailed security overview see our DRM technology.


Can you protect a PDF from copying for free?

Not effectively. There are some online tools that let you protect a PDF from copying by converting the text to images.  However, this is easily bypassed by using an OCR tool to turn the images back into text.  Any good PDF reader can achieve this.

If you want effective protection, you’re better of paying for a more sophisticated tool like Locklizard Safeguard.

Is there a way to print from a copy protected PDF?

It depends on what was used for PDF copy protection.  If the answer is Adobe Acrobat or another PDF editing tool, then the answer is absolutely.  Due to flaws in the security handler, you can easily remove the print protections with various online tools.

If the owner protected your document with Locklizard Safeguard, you can only print if the publisher allows you to.

How do I know if my PDF is copy protected?

If your PDF is protected with Adobe Acrobat, you’ll be prompted for a password when trying to edit and/or open it.

All Locklizard Safeguard PDFs, which are presented in the .pdc file format, are copy protected by default.

  Download PDF copy protection software

Download PDF copy protection software that uses US Government strength encryption and Digital Rights Management controls to copy protect PDF documents.

Ensure your PDF files are protected against copying, printing, editing and distribution.  Lock PDF files to individual computers and locations so they cannot be shared.

Locklizard DRM security provides superior copy protection to Adobe Acrobat and enables you to protect PDF files from copying without insecure passwords.

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