by GlenH
13 replies
Has anyone ever found a way to protect PDF files (ebooks) from being redistributed and read.

Anyone who has ever written and sells an ebook knows the frustration of finding the ebook you're selling on your site for $37, is floating around ebay (or wherever) for $7 or for free.

I know that when you create a PDF file you can prevent users from highlighting, copying or printing the PDF etc. but I've never found a program or script that can prevent anyone excpet the original purchaser from opening the PDF.

I know of DL Guard (which is a good product) but it doesn't offer that type of security.

#files #pdf #security
  • Profile picture of the author Ron Killian
    You could password protect them, but then you might end up with a ton of extra customer service time, people can't find their password, the password doesn't work, ect, ect.

    I agree it sucks, but it's not worth worry about, if they want it, they will get it. Better to spend the time on selling more Just my opinion.
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  • Profile picture of the author Sean Donahoe
    If you have Acrobat Pro (it's kinda expensive) you can create security policies that prevent copying, printing and other restrictions. I am sure some of the other PDF writers out there do provide some of the same facilities.

    There are also some scripts out there that can digital sign a PDF with an order number and customers name. It is more of a deterrent that a cure if they use false details but it much easier to chase a copyright theft down when the data is all over the PDF.

    I actually wrote a proprietary script that invisibly signs each PDF so if it is stolen I can sic my lawyers on the data theif if I want to.

    Hope that helps..


    Sean Donahoe
    The Manic Marketer
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  • Profile picture of the author activetrader
    My two cents - if someone wants to steal your book they will! Once it is sold it is out of your hands. They can do anything they want with it. Frustrating and it sucks, but that comes with the territory. I don't stress out about it at all or at least try not to.


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  • Profile picture of the author Keith Choy
    hi Glen,

    Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to COMPLETELY stop this. You can only prevent as much as you can.

    If the thief wants your eBook very badly, they will find ways and means even if you password-protect or prevent-copying etc.

    I wouldn't reveal the ways/means here as I don't want to encourage this.

    However, if you want more info (so that you know how to protect yourself better), you can PM me. Don't worry. NO sales pitch. Just some sharing.

    Btw, just to add that you would need to balance your protection against the user experience. I got a ebook previously and the owner protected such that any buyer can only print 2 its content times before it get lock up. Note: I had to print more times as my printer keep getting jam. Needless to say, that caused a lot of frustration.

    - Keith Choy
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    Originally Posted by dave147 View Post

    Nobody seems to be able to unlock your pdf, so tell us how it is done
    Hey Dave,

    I'm unconvinced that it CAN be done. I hear people constantly say that password protection can be easily circumvented and I'd love to get some first hand experience with that. I certainly can't circumvent it easily.

    The original discussion was about requiring a password to prevent COPYING from a document -- but still allowing printing, and not requiring the password to open the PDF.

    The OP merely wanted to password protect the COPY function for cutting and pasting out of the PDF.

    But that conversation sparked the usual responses of "don't waste your time, anyone that wants it can defeat the protection.."

    OK... says I. I'd love to see if that conventional wisdom is TRUE or not.

    Using the Mac's built-in PDF security functions, I password protected a "dummy" pdf with a hidden message that requires the password in order to OPEN the file.

    Now, in the real world, as has been mentioned -- that can get ugly fast. Hell, some of my customers can't even figure out how to unzip a file... But this is not a typical file delivery we're testing. It's a password cracking test.

    More or less, this is a science experiement in hopes that one of the people posting dire warnings about how vulnerable protected PDF's are "know a guy who knows a guy" and could actually defeat my password and repost the simple hidden message inside.

    I couldn't just copy protect it, I had to lock down the whole file in order to prevent previewing the secret message.

    So, at the end of the day -- I have NO IDEA how to do it. I was hoping somebody out there DOES. We see an awful lot of people warning about the futility of protecting PDFs but zero PROOF that those warnings have merit.

    It's a completely friendly challenge for the education of the forum at large.

    And, to be clear, the point is not to share HOW it's done, just prove that it CAN be...


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    • Profile picture of the author Christophe Young
      I use ebook pro. It's a secure ebook software program and when someone downloads my ebook from a link, they have to enter a unique usename and password to open it that's also sent to them. All the username and passwords are pre-generated so they can be sent to each customer automatically. You can limit the number of times a person can register their ebook as well. This prevents sharing. Best of all you can disable someone's ebook if they ask for a refund.

      None of this is totally full proof but it's the best I've seen as far as secure ebook software.

      I don't see how you can really fully protect a PDF document.

      Of course, at the end of the day you need to decide if all this is worth it.
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  • Profile picture of the author PatientZero
    I haven't seen anybody breaking Acrobat 10's security measures. Still if somebody wants your content, they will get it. If no other way than manually taking screencaptures of every page.
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  • Profile picture of the author Dmitry
    Truth is - if they can read it, they can steal it.
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  • Profile picture of the author ateam
    Hi Glen

    Found this in it might help
    Q. PDF security - printing allowed but changes not allowed?"

    This can be done - it would be advisable to read the section in the help file about applying document security. If you don't want to then it's very simple:

    Document > Security > Restrict Opening and Editing....

    Do not set a password to open the document.

    Check the option "Use a passowrd to restrict..."

    Change the ptrinting optnio required - low or high res. If you don't know which know/care which one to select then just choose high.
    Do not change the Changes allowed option - this should be none by default.
    Click OK and then enter your password and then reenter to confirm.
    Choose Save As and job done!

    You will not be prompted for a password when attempting to open or print and you will not not be able to select any of the editing tools in Acrobat.
    In addition you will not be able to print to Adobe PDF to produce another PDF - you will get an error message that it is encrypted.

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  • Profile picture of the author Glenn72
    The obvious thing to do would be to sell it as a physical product. A real book would be the best option. There are companies that can handle this. When someone orders, they print off the book and send it to the customer. Especially useful for selling on eBay with their current download restrictions.

    Plus, people like having a physical product. Look at how well a few of the gurus have done selling book & DVD products. And of course you can't read an ebook while sitting on the toilet, but a real book you can

    Although at the same time, I guess a lot of people will always want that 'immediate fix'.
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