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Software Communications

Getting Around PDF Rights Restrictions? 21

Posted by Cliff
from the users-have-rights-too dept.
RedBear asks: "It is common these days for government agencies to offer official forms online as fillable PDF forms. What is not so common is for them to offer 'rights-enabled' versions of these PDF forms that can be filled, saved locally and changed using free the Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF software. I'm sure many of you have experienced this phenomenon: You take the time to fill in a PDF form online and then discover that the only way to retain your changes is to print it. What cross-platform methods exist to allow common users to save filled PDF forms in a way that will allow easy future editing, without costing hundreds of dollars? FOSS software is of course preferable, and cross-platform between at least Mac and Windows is essential."
"The main problem is this: At a small non-profit I do tech support, for it would cost hundreds of dollars to outfit just a few client computers with the full version of Adobe Acrobat, which is the only way to let their users save and update the government PDF forms they use. The official Adobe method for creating 'rights-enabled' PDF forms is currently by using Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions. As is typical for 'enterprise' software, you won't easily find a price for it online, only a link to contact Adobe. A line on this page that says something about it costing 'several thousands of dollars'. Talks with the document creators (state government agency) to get them to create 'rights-enabled' versions of these documents have predictably gone nowhere. I thought PDF was a relatively open format, so the question is what alternatives exist to let small agencies, or even individuals, either save the forms in a portable/re-editable manner with some inexpensive extra software or completely bypass the restrictions the same way that LiveCycle Reader Extensions does?

Adobe notes that LiveCycle Reader Extensions enables 'hidden functionality' in Adobe Acrobat Reader software. I'm assuming this doesn't mean just flipping a bit in the file, or this would already be easy to do with some third-party software. I'm also assuming that PDF password crackers have nothing to do with adding this functionality. Last but not least I'm assuming that even if a rights-enabled PDF document is obtained the additional functionality of saving and re-editing forms will only work in Adobe Acrobat Reader and not in other free PDF viewer applications like Apple's Preview.app, xpdf, Foxit PDF Reader, etc. This last isn't really a technical problem since Acrobat Reader 5.1 or later is available for Mac, Win32 and Linux. Any corrections to the above assumptions would be very welcome.

Alternatives we have found so far:
  • A website that offers inexpensive conversion of the PDF document into a rights-enabled version. Would have to be used for every form and every new version of the form that came out. Anyone used this service? Is it legit and/or legal? How are they doing the conversion? If they can do it, why can't we do it locally? What exactly is involved with creating a rights-enabled PDF anyway?
  • One cross-platform commercial software product (pdf-FormServer)that seems to offer the ability to save and re-edit PDF forms for under $45 per computer. Available for Mac OS X and Windows. A lot cheaper than Acrobat but would still need to be on every computer used by clients. Not cheap for a non-profit on a shoe-string budget. Anyone using this software care to comment? How seamless is it?
Supplemental question: Can this problem be put into the light of being an accessibility issue to help motivate these government agencies to comply with the current online accessibility laws? My hunch is no, since it's only about saving the filled form that you've already accessed, but maybe we can work in something about not being able to use the form(s) offline? (Which would be possible with a rights-enabled version of the documents and any local copy of Acrobat Reader.) The IRS website notes that every PDF form they provide after October 25, 2004 will be rights-enabled. Are they doing it solely for user convenience or are they complying with some official government policy that we can reference? Any thoughts?

Note that all links have been coralized, so remove '.nyud.net:8090' from the domain name if you really want to /. the original website.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Getting Around PDF Rights Restrictions?

Comments Filter:
  • Take a look at PDFTK (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2006 @07:09PM (#14413054)
    PDF TK [accesspdf.com] written for the PDF Hacks book. It's not exactly for the common user, but it does allow you do quite a bit with PDFs that you're not supposed to be able to do.
  • Foxit (Score:2, Informative)

    by cwebb1977 (650175) on Friday January 06, 2006 @07:11PM (#14413073) Homepage
    Try out the Foxit PDF Reader [foxitsoftware.com], it's free and lots faster than Adobe. And it's not from Adobe so it lets you handle pdf's the way you want it...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2006 @07:37PM (#14413289)
    to deal with a new version of a form that was released this year by DHS.

    First you'll need this...http://www.lowagie.com/iText/ [lowagie.com]

    Then you can use this code... well not this code exactly as it's rather crappy and I have a wierd setup, but you'll get the point. Also, the basis for this was found in the itext forums I believe.
    package ConsoleApplication1;
    import com.lowagie.text.pdf.*;
    import com.lowagie.text.DocumentException;
    import jp.ujihara.java.util.HashMap;
    import jp.ujihara.java.util.Iterator;
    import java.io.IOException;
    import java.io.FileOutputStream;
    public class Program
        public static void main(String[] args) throws com.lowagie.text.DocumentException
                PdfReader reader = new PdfReader("c:\\temp\\input.pdf");
                PdfDictionary acro = (PdfDictionary)PdfReader.getPdfObject(reader.getCa talog().get(PdfName.ACROFORM));
                acro.remove(new PdfName("XFA"));
                PdfStamper stp = new PdfStamper(reader, new FileOutputStream("c:\\temp\\output.pdf"));
                AcroFields af = stp.getAcroFields();
                HashMap f = af.getFields();
                for (Iterator it = f.keySet().iterator(); it.hasNext();) {
                    String name = (String)it.next();
                    System.out.println("Field is " + name);
                System.out.println("File closed.");
            catch (IOException e)
                System.out.print("Exception caught!");
    Now you have a PDF that you can do whatever the hell you want with like fill the form with pdftk. All this code does is strip out the the XFA forms from the PDF and by extension removes the rights restrictions. It of course may not work for every PDF, but it has for the ones I've needed to use (All government released forms with the restrictions you've mentioned have been much more usable after this).

    One word of warning, opening and saving the changed document in Designer 7 or 8 or whatever the latest version is will likely force you to have to remove the XFA form again.

    Now I'll just sit back and wait for Slashdot to get subpoenad for my IP, then my ISP to get subpoenad for my name and address, and the DMCA related lawsuit should arrive shortly after that.
  • Print to PDF (Score:4, Informative)

    by codehead (14804) on Friday January 06, 2006 @07:43PM (#14413329) Homepage
    Easy. Print to PDF. Re-edit. Rinse. Repeat.
    In windows, try PrimoPDF [primopdf.com] -powered by Ghostscript- to get a new PDF with the form filled out, so yo can keep an electronic copy around. If you need to make minor modifications use a PDF editor like Foxit [foxitsoftware.com].
    In linux a straight print to file and a ps2pdf will do for the first part, and you can edit the filled-out PDF with scribus.
  • Re:Print to PDF (Score:2, Informative)

    by codehead (14804) on Friday January 06, 2006 @11:37PM (#14414816) Homepage
    Sadly no, it doesn't. But at least it lets you keep a copy of the form with the actual content that you filled in. It sure beats a hardcopy, and you can make minor changes in any part of the file.

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