Are PDFs DRM?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and TPM stands for Technical Protection Measures. Both of these are terms for “digital locks”. Digital Locks allow the manufacturer to control their product after we have bought them. Personally, I would think that a digital lock should be illegal, because once I buy something, I own it. But that’s another article.

Maple Leaf that says "Oh! Canada"

The Canadian DMCA has just been tabled by the Conservative government. The main provision of Bill C-32 the so-called “Copyright Modernization Act” that pretty much everyone agrees is bad is that the resulting law will make circumvention of digital locks illegal.

Which got me thinking about PDFs. A PDF is a technical protection of content locked in a digital format.

I used to be simply annoyed by PDF files. If I am getting information online, I don’t think it should be necessary to download special software in order to read it. So unless I really want the information badly, I won’t. And then I won’t use the Adobe reader which alwasy seems to have security warnings about all the ways Adobe Readers allow malware to get into our computers. How do computer viruses spread? By putting insecure things in our computers.

Everyone everywhere on the internet can read files in html without having to put software they don’t want on their computer. That’s what we see when we look at web pagees, or blogs or email.

I recently learned that the reason PDFs exist is to lock the document format for printing. So really, the only reason to put your information into a PDF file is to send it to a printer. It is not the right choice for disseminating online information.

If the information is really important to me, I will use the PDF reader I have. So it is possible for me to deconstruct important information like say an ACTA leak into html so that people can read it Shine a Light on ACTA: A.C.T.A. Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Unlocked Then the information can also be indexed by search engines.

But the question is:

Is a PDF DRM or TPM?

The reason people put content into a PDF file is to preserve the formatting. A PDF file uses technical protection measures to preserve the formatting. Many people have software to deconstruct PDFs, dor me, if I want to circumvent a PDF’s TPM I have to do it the old fashioned way, by re-typing it.

So if they pass Bill C-32, deconstructing a PDF will be circumventing a digital lock. It will be illegal, won’t it?



P.S. Oh look, more warnings:

engadget: Adobe’s Flash and Acrobat have ‘critical’ vulnerability, may allow remote hijacking

ZD Net: Adobe warns of Flash, PDF zero-day attacks

United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team: Adobe Reader and Acrobat customDictionaryOpen() and getAnnots() JavaScript vulnerabilities

ars technica: Flash security vulnerability exploited in PDFs

2 thoughts on “Are PDFs DRM?

  1. If you read the act you find that definition for technical protection mechanism is very broad. So broad that even a copy bit (a flag that says you can copy this) is enough to be TPM. So it is incredibly clear that PDFs which are marked with TPM bits like copybits will be TPMd. Most aren’t, but naively many are and for no good reason either.

    Also DVD playing in VLC or on LINUX is illegal too 🙂 Rarely do you come across a disc w/o CSS.

  2. You don’t have to imagine what would happen if you cracked a PDF open should this bill pass, Dr. Sklyarov can tell you all about what happens in a country with anti-circumvention laws if you have the audacity to try to understand the software running on your computer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s