I have a client that wants to make a PDF available to download online through their own website but then also wants to add the condition to the document that it can only be printed once. Once its been printed I would assume it would then need to require a password or licence to print again.

Does anyone know of a way of achieving this?


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    Besides being a hassle to achieve, it's also rather pointless. Protections like those are rather easily circumvented unless they are real good and thus real expensive. If you don't want it printed, then don't publish it. – Vincent Jul 29 '16 at 10:42
  • I also see no point in protecting printing, as Vincent said. Why bother, when I could easily print it once, scan it, and print as many times as I'd like? – Manly Jul 29 '16 at 14:29
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    I'd go back to the client and communicate with them that this is pointless, as Vincent said. Also senseless, in my opinion. I can't think of any scenario where doing that makes sense. It's a client relationship question. – DocPixel Jul 29 '16 at 22:54
  • Is it VERY important? Does your client have a lot of money? – Stan Jul 30 '16 at 21:51

Files simply do not work like this. Even if all PDF readers had implemented such a file-destruction mechanism, it could easily be circumvented by copying the file before printing or recompiling any open-source PDF reader with that feature disabled. Moreover, as long as the user has access to a regular printing interface (to choose the printer), they can always print to a file (i.e., usually a PDF).

The only way to even remotely get to this would be to write some obscure program that bypasses normal printing interfaces and directly controls the printer and needs to interact with a server controlled by you to avoid that the program is simply run twice. And this usability, portability, and security nightmare could still be circumvented with virtual machines. And that’s not even talking about the possibility to re-digitalise the printout.

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  • @joojaa: I added the aspect of the possibility to remove compliance with such bogus by plainly recompiling the program. Thanks. – Wrzlprmft Jul 30 '16 at 10:57

Copyprotection aka Rights management does not really work. What i mean by this is encryption works, but then you can not view the contents. Once you give anybody view rights all other rights come with that. So either you give all rights or no rights. This is a big headache for rightsholders that have poured billions of dollars on protection schemes with limited value. Up untill some 5 years ago there was not even a foundation that might have worked even on a theoretical level, even this new development is extremely weak showing.

So what can you do? Send a bad quality copy. Degrade your file, thats the only way out. Obviously this also degrades the value to customers.

What else can you do? Trust in legal instruments, and your clients. Or dont do business at all.

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A Parable (For your client)

I was once given the opportunity of engineering non-copyable literature for distribution.

The stipulation was that the original time-sensitive document could be read by the private seminar participant but would be difficult or impossible to reproduce conveniently until the information became stale. It was to be a limited edition.

I tried several different concepts. The most successful attempt was made on paper stock that was difficult to reproduce due to a light multi-coloured interference pattern on the paper that when copied became darker. The dots used were non resolvable by the normal copiers and became continuous multicoloured blocks. The lithography overprinted human-readable characters were also halftone screened but neutral that could be seen and read.

Office photocopies of the original pages were a blotchy difficult to read mess. Colour photocopies were a colourful blotchy difficult to read mess.

So far, so good. Proof of concept, check. We went into production.

Everything worked as designed and it only took minutes to crack. It was dictated to a speed typist who then had a second perfect original to copy in a few minutes.

Moral: If you have an original, there will be a way to reproduce it.

Another alternative approach would be to create a way so that the recipient wouldn't want or allow a copy of it. For example: Use a watermark of the recipient's credit card number and the PDF will be very carefully tended. There are more ways, too.

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