PDF In-Depth

The disadvantages of locked PDFs

March 04, 2010

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One thing that makes PDFs superior to TIFFs as a format for storing digital documents is PDFs ability to incorporate security features. Many lawyers aren't aware of the full features of Adobe Acrobat. Of course, you password protect a document so that it can't be opened, but that's not something you're likely to do if you produce PDFs as part of the discovery process. However, did you know that you can also lock down particular features and prevent the user of a PDF from printing? And you can also prevent the user from "copying and pasting."

If you are thinking that this would be a great thing to do when producing documents in litigation, think again. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (and many state rules) specify that documents must be produced in native form, or "in a reasonably usable form" (which means a searchable form). So producing "locked down" PDFs is probably not a good idea.

The defendants in Mack v. HH Gregg, Inc. found this out the hard way as the excellent discussion in this blog post reveals. Now, there are legitimate reasons you'd want to lock down a PDF that wouldn't impair the other side's legitimate use of the PDFs. For example, what if you want to lock down the Bates-numbers that you imposed on the PDFs that you're producing and nothing else? If you want to do that check out this article from the wonderful blog Acrobat for Legal Professionals.

This piece originally appeared on PDFforLawyers.com, and has been reproduced with permission.

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