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PDF Security: What Is DRM Protection? (Overview & How to Add)

May 19, 2022
Author
Inkit Team

With the advent of digital media, copyright holders have sought out additional forms of protection to help prevent their works from being illegally copied and shared. 

Whereas traditional copyright laws at one time were deemed sufficient, the digital era brought with it new hurdles for protecting contents within PDF documents.

This is where DRM (Digital Rights Management) enters the picture. 

In this guide, we’ll look at what DRM is, how it works, when to use it, and more.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this ultimate guide to DRM protection:

  • What Is DRM (Digital Rights Management)?
  • How Does DRM Work?
  • DRM Protection in PDF Documents Overview
  • When To Use DRM In Your Digital Content and Documents
  • How To Add DRM Protection To A PDF Document
  • How to Remove DRM From PDF and EPub Documents

What Is DRM (Digital Rights Management)?

Ever wondered what it means when a file is DRM protected? 

DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a form of protection for digital media or any file that has some kind of restriction against unauthorized use in place. 

It works by encrypting and limiting the distribution and use of products like music, movies, PDF documents, eBooks, and more. 

Most DRM systems work by creating a unique key or code that can be used to unlock it in order to gain access.

This prevents the content from being copied without permission. The goal of DRM is to maintain value in digital goods and protect intellectual property rights. And as it becomes increasingly easier to locate pirated content online, it’s more important than ever to have protection like DRM.

How Does DRM Work?

DRM protects copyrighted material by ensuring that purchases of digital content are not pirated or compromised. It does this by monitoring the distribution of the protected material and giving permission for its use.

In order to use a DRM, the content typically needs to be ingested using a Content Management System (CMS).

graphic showing the process of DRM

Source: Technedigitale

For example, let’s say you bought a DRM-protect song. As part of the media’s packaging process, the song receives an encryption key that is unique to it. The key is also included with a digital license; this simply covers the rules for the content’s use.

Whenever you wish to listen to the song, the DRM’s client reviews the digital license to ensure that it’s OK to listen to it. 

If everything checks out and the license reports back that the song can be played on your system, the key is decrypted, and the song plays without issue. 

All of this is accomplished in a split second. 

Now, let’s take a look at how DRM works with PDF documents.

DRM Protection in PDF Documents Overview

PDF documents are a popular option for sharing documents, but they can contain DRM—the software that restricts the way you access your document. 

In this section, we’ll explore how DRM works and what you can do to remove it from your PDF files.

How DRM works in PDFs

PDFs work by encrypting the content of the file with a password. This password is known as a “digital entitlement.” The digital entitlement is set by whoever created the PDF and then shared with others. 

The digital entitlement then sets some restrictions on who has access to the file. For example, only those people authorized by the creator of the PDF may have access to view or print it. 

For someone without an authorized digital entitlement, trying to open a PDF creates an error message stating that there is no authorization for them to view or print it. 

If you are the creator of the PDF, you have two options in granting access: 

  1. You can either give them your digital entitlement.
  2. Or you can remove their restriction from being able to view or print the document.

As you can see, DRM is an important component in the protection of various digital works. Without a proper DRM in place, it would be far too easy for content to be copied and shared illegally. And although there are ways to remove DRM protection (which we’ll cover shortly), it’s a serviceable roadblock for most users.

Those who don’t have the technical know-how or patience will find DRM protection to be enough to stop them from attempting anything further. But the fact remains that there are ways to get around DRM protection.

For now, though, DRM serves its purpose in thwarting attempts to distribute protected content without authorization. And for many content creators, that’s enough.

Now, let’s take a look at some examples of DRMs you come across daily.

Examples of DRM across different mediums

There are various uses for DRM in digital media.

Moreover, several brands use DRM to protect their content in several ways. That said, not all DRM acts the same, as you’ll see in the examples below.

Apple Music: Apple DRM prevents you from listening to music on any device without the Apple Music app.

Spotify: Spotify uses a more open type of DRM where users can listen to their music on any device, but they can’t download it onto their computer. Instead, only playlists are allowed on PCs.

Google Play: Google Play leaves it up to the content creator whether they wish to use DRM. Those who forego DRM allow you to download and listen to music on any device.

DRM in Movies: DRM can be used to stop people from copying DVDs and Blu-rays. There is another type of DRM used in movies, called “SafeDisc.” This is meant to combat piracy. However, it’s an older type of DRM. The newer type, BD+, is much more difficult for pirates to break into.

DRM in EBooks: DRM is often used in eBooks to prevent unauthorized copying and sharing. With Kindle eBooks, for example, you can view them on devices other than Kindles as long as you have the free Kindle app downloaded and installed to them.

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When To Use DRM In Your Digital Content and Documents

Many people don’t think about using DRM until they learn that their digital content has been leaked. 

This may happen in the event of a data breach, theft, or malicious attack.

But it’s not just when you’re experiencing an emergency situation that you might need to use DRM.

You may want to start thinking about implementing DRM when you release your digital content so that nobody else can copy or distribute it without your permission. 

Moreover, if you release content in the form of a Blu-ray, for example, you should take steps to implement DRM to ensure its protection. This is especially true if you plan to make money from your work. 

Failure to do so could potentially take money away from your earnings.

How To Add DRM Protection To A PDF Document

There are many tools you can use to add DRM protection to your PDF documents and files. But below, we’ll be covering steps on how to do this with Adobe Acrobat.

Adobe Acrobat DC is the latest version of Adobe’s PDF reader. 

It provides new security features that allow you to protect your work in a variety of ways, so it will always be accessible when you need it. This is great for people who are working on sensitive information. 

But what if you want to share your document so others can edit or comment? 

Adding DRM to PDF documents is easy with Adobe Acrobat DC. 

All you have to do is apply one of the following security settings to add DRM to a PDF document:

  1. First, navigate to “Document Properties”.
  2. At the top, you will see a row of tabs.
  3. Click on the tab that says “Security”.
  4. Look for the field labeled “Security Method” and select “Password Security” from the drop-down menu.
  5. Under this is a section entitled “Document Restrictions Summary”.
  6. From here, you can adjust accessibility to various actions, including printing, copying, and extraction

Please note that Adobe’s form of DRM is called “ADEPT,” or Adobe Digital Experience Protection Technology.

If you’re looking for other ways to secure your PDF documents, be sure to also read:

How to Remove DRM From PDF and EPub Documents

Removing the DRM from a PDF document can be done by using a free program called Calibre

Once you have downloaded the program, you will need to install a DRM removal tool, such as Apprentice Alf’s DRM Removal Tool. 

Then, follow these steps to remove DRM from your PDF or Epub documents:

  1. The DRM Removal Tool is a .zip file that contains three folders. You will need to create a folder on your desktop and unzip the three folders to it.
  2. Open Calibre and select the DRM Removal Plugin.
  3. To do this, you’ll need to select the “Preferences” button at the upper right corner.
  4. Next, select “Change Calibre Behavior”.
  5. Scroll down until you reach the Advanced area.
  6. Click on “Plugins”.
  7. A window will appear. From here, choose “Load Plugin from File”.
  8. Select the folder where you unzipped the three folders.
  9. Click on the folder called “DeDRM_calibre_plugin”.
  10. Highlight the folder and click “Open”.
  11. Close Calibre and reopen it.

Now that you have Calibre working with the DRM Removal Tool, you can simply import your DRM-protected PDF to Calibre’s library. All you need to do is drag and drop the appropriate files into Calibre’s window.

From there, Calibre takes care of the rest and removes all DRM protection from your PDF. If you have any other protected PDFs, just drag and drop them over to Calibre, and it will remove the DRM protection.

If you’re looking for other ways to unlock your PDF documents, you might also want to read:

In Closing

Hope this guide to DRM protection was useful!

To recap, DRM is an essential tool in the digital age. It’s fair to assume that DRM will eventually be replaced with more robust protection solutions. 

But for now, it’s the gold standard for content creators who wish to protect their works from being illegally copied or shared.

If you found this helpful and you’re looking for other ways to securely manage or organize your PDF documents, you can also read:

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