PDF/A-1 1A and 1B - A Difference Without a Distinction

It turns out that the following information about PDF/A may be more than you need to know, but forewarned is fore-armed! 

There has been a great deal of discussion about PDF/A as a specific PDF file format and some confusion about the two flavors of PDF/A.  PDF/A is subdivided into 1A and 1B - these are each referred to as a “Compliance Level”.   For legal practice the question at hand is whether a specific Compliance Level will be required by the Federal Courts under new rules for PDF/A format.  As you may recall, the Federal Courts will begin requiring that ECF documents be submitted in PDF/A format in 2011.  By the way, there is nothing preventing you from voluntarily filing in PDF/A format today.

PDF/A Compliance Levels:

The short description is:  PDF/A 1A is considered a “minimal” level of compliance with 1A including additional features for “a"ccessibility for reading disabilities.  “PDF/A-1b (basic) is easier to generate and guarantees the visual reproducibility of content”. (1)

Our friends at AIIM have very succinctly described the two Levels of Compliance as:

“• PDF/A-1a – Conformance level 1a shall adhere to all of the requirements of the PDF Reference as modified by the ISO 19005 specification and requires structural and semantic properties to be preserved. Level 1a uses “Tagged PDF” and Unicode character maps to preserve the document's logical structure and content text stream in natural reading order. For some applications, users may need to use a PDF/A-1 conformant viewer to take maximum advantage of embedded metadata.

• PDF/A-1b – Conformance level 1b requirements are intended to be those minimally necessary to ensure the visual appearance of electronic documents. Level 1a preserves document structure from the original document that allows the consumer to the archived document to view and manipulate the document as they could the original.”(2)

A few other key points are discussed at PDFA.org which I won’t recite here but are well worth perusing.   And this list of PDF/A compliant solutions published by AIIM will be useful if you don't have a solution yet.

Also download the whitepaper that Docs Corp has published on the topic of PDF/A

Which one should I use for ECF?

Perhaps a place to start is guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) which sets records standards for the federal government.  From NARA FAQs:

“4. Does NARA require a specific PDF/A-1 conformance level?
No. NARA does not require a specific conformance level for permanent PDF/A-1 records. Agencies should use the conformance level that best suits their business needs.  (3)

Perhaps PACER can give us some guidance as to which Compliance Level to use.  But alas,  Pacer doesn’t discuss PDF/A 1A or 1B – see this PACER announcement.  And from PACER personnel came the comment “We have been told either format will be accepted. There will be more information made available at each court's ECF website when they begin to require the PDF/A format.”.

Short of specific instructions from your Federal District Court administrator, it seems that the distinction between PDFA 1A and 1B is moot.  1B Level Conformance is easier to accomplish and seems to win by default.

As always, comments and questions are welcome!  Email me at bill.lipner@discoverypartners.us