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How to prevent a .pdf file from being printed or downloaded

Posted on 2014-11-21
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2014-12-01
I would like to post some pdf files on our company intranet for our users to view only.  I do not want them to be able to download them or print them.  What is this easiest way to do this?  I am not against converting them from pdf to something else...  in all actuality, some might even be powerpoint too.   I apologize that this question is kind of all over the place...I just got hit with it by someone looking for a quick answer.
Question by:snyperj
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LVL 53

Accepted Solution

strung earned 2000 total points
ID: 40458402
In reality, you won't be able to prevent people from taking a screen shot.

The best you can do is to convert them to a jpeg and put them into the web page as a background in a table. See point 4 here:
LVL 58

Expert Comment

ID: 40458403
If someone can see it then they can download it.
As for printing you can set the Print Allowed from Permissions when creating the pdf
LVL 98

Expert Comment

by:John Hurst
ID: 40458405
If people can view a file, they can take a copy of it and print it. I think about the only way you might possible control this is by using Digital Rights Management.
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LVL 55

Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE 2015&2016
ID: 40458415
I have been on numerous threads here at EE where this has been discussed. Here are just two:

The quick summary is that if you put it on the web, folks will get hold of it. Regards, Joe
LVL 26

Expert Comment

ID: 40458612
Scenario #1

1. user clicks link to PDF
2. document opens Acrobat Reader (or whatever pdf viewer is in use)
3a. user has the ability to print from the viewer
3b. user has the ability to save from the viewer

Scenario #2

1. user clicks link to PDF
2. document opens in browser
3a user has the ability to print from browser
3b. user has the ability to save as from browser (not the best option but can save as txt file)
3c. user presses screen print and pastes into a word processor document which can be scanned using OCR to convert to text

Scenario #3

1. user right clicks the link to the pdf
2a. user selects save target as (this can be turned off on the webpage)
2b. user selects print target (this can be turned off on the webpage)

These are just some of the ways to get the document. There are some things you can do to reduce but not eliminate save/print however all of them can be circumvented.  It just depends on the desire/effort of the viewer.
LVL 53

Expert Comment

ID: 40458691
If you convert the document to a jpeg and put it into a table as a background, as per my earlier post, then 1, 2, and 3 above will not work. The only easy way to capture the contents would be to take a screen shot.
LVL 26

Expert Comment

ID: 40458701

You are correct except that the scenario is covered in Scenario #2 Step 3c. That probably should have been scenario #4 since it really could apply to all of the other scenarios as well as yours.
LVL 37

Expert Comment

by:Neil Russell
ID: 40459394
Your best defense is to watermark the pdf and digitally sign it so it can not be edited. If it has a nice copyright watermark across the page diagonally then it puts a lot of people off the effort and will hinder but not stop duplication.
LVL 25

Expert Comment

ID: 40459460
I don't have anything to add, sorry, but I do have a question related to the responses here.

Acrobat Pro lets me restrict editing and printing of a PDF. I realize that might not help with downloading and screenshots, but wouldn't that at least prevent straightforward printing? Or does Acrobat Viewer ignore this setting and let you print the PDF regardless? (I'm guessing if it were opened in a browser it would still print also. Yes? No?)

In my experience, rather like the watermark suggestion above, if you at least make it a little harder for folks, most won't bother going the extra mile to get the content.

Oh! I do have something to contribute. Regarding PowerPoint, you're in much the same boat as with PDF. If you show the slides, they can be captured. That said, you can actually convert PowerPoint to quite a few different formats. Which is best depends on the presentation itself (how important is the animation, for example) and the actual protection needs.

Option 1: Create PDF. PPT gives you an option to convert your file to PDF. You'd have to have Acrobat Pro to add further restriction to the PDF, as discussed above. In PPT 2010, this option is on the File tab | Save and Send. In PPT 2013 it's in File | Export.

Option 2: Create a video. Easy to embed in your website. Not so easy to print. Not sure about preventing downloading in general, but I do know a service who does this kind of video-download-prevention for corporations if you're interested. In PPT 2010, create video is on the File tab | Save and Send. In PPT 2013 it's in File | Export.

Option 3: Password protection. Don't bother. If you add a modify password to a "modern" PowerPoint file (that is, an XML-based file format -- PPTX, PPSX, etc.), which is supposed to prevent the user from editing or copying the slides, PPT 2003 will still let you edit this file without the password. This falls into the "how much trouble is it" category, but it's not really secure. And it won't prevent printing. And has nothing to do with downloading.

Along those lines is IRM (File | Info | Protect | Restrict Access). Unless you have your own IRM servers, don't bother. (You might have them if you have one of the high-end corporate Office 365 licenses, though. Like E3 or E4, off the top of my head.) The free MSFT IRM servers went down once for, like, 6 weeks and nobody could access their restricted content. No way I'd ever trust them. It's a pain anyway and I don't think it would work on a website.

Another option that's not an option is Mark as Final, in that same File | Info | Protect area. That's just an administrative thing anybody can turn on and off on a file. It's just to flag you so you can easily see which is your final file.

Yet another option that's not an option: embed your presentation in your website. MSFT makes it sound easy. And it is.
Thing is, it's not secure at all. Users can unfortunately still download the file.

And a final option that's not an option: Lots of people think if you save a PowerPoint file as a PPSX, nobody can do anything with it because it opens in slide show view and just does its thing there. But all you have to do is open PowerPoint, go to File | Open and open the PPSX. Voila! Full editing (and printing) capability.

More info:  (man, we need to update this!) convert to EXE isn't really an option anymore, and unfortunately neither is SecurePack. This is because there's not a PowerPoint Viewer that will support the XML file format.

Way more than you want or need, I know. But I also run into clients who keep tossing out, "But what about this?" when trying to figure out a way to protect a PowerPoint file. You might as well be able to head them off at the pass! :-)
LVL 26

Expert Comment

ID: 40462449
Based on all the responses above there is no way to fully block the ability to copy/print. The only thing that holds true is how hard you make it for the person on the other end and how much work they are willing to put into it.  

***  DISCLAIMER  *** I have not used the following:

This product may help with the less determined individuals:

Author Closing Comment

ID: 40473816
This, while not ideal, worked for this scenario.  Thanks to all other who offerered suggestions.

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