Never Having to Say Goodbye

I was recently discussing a client’s concerns about losing control of a PDF document after they have emailed it.  They fretted about where it might be forwarded and who might see it.  The client is very astute about all of the built-in tools available for securing a PDF like passwords and applying no-copy or no-print attributes.  But nonetheless, there was a nagging concern about “losing control” of the actual file once its emailed to someone who can then save it to their own system or forward it to anyone else.

I quipped… well, don’t email it if you're concerned about losing control in the ether-web.  My client replied… “You’re on.  Show me how!”.

Never Having to Say Goodbye (to your document)
Enter the world of Information Rights Management (IRM) or Digital Rights Management (the latter tends to refer to rich media assets like video and audio) – a world where your documents are always under your control.  This is accomplished by maintaining the document on a server – so that you are never actually sending the document.   The server hosting your document is running software which gives you complete control over access to the document and can restrict functions like,

- printing (or no printing)
- printscreen (or no printscreen)
- saving or not 
- restrict forwarding via email
- view with watermark to discourage camera capture
- file expiration on demand or specified date

How it Works
There are two general approaches to IRM to consider when selecting a solution.   The first approach might be called “quarantine” and the second might be called “tethering”. 

When you quarantine a document, you load the document onto an IRM server which is often doing double-duty as a secure web-meeting-room.  Once the document is loaded,, you email web-links instead of emailing the document itself.  

The recipient clicks on the link in their email message and can then view or use the document depending on the access level you have provided.  Since they don’t have the document, the recipient cannot forward it.

When you tether a document, you load the document onto an IRM server and add a module to your copy of Outlook.  You then email a “package” to the recipient – typically a specially configured PDF file. 

The recipient opens the package which is attached to their email, and will be prompted to add a special module to their copy of Adobe Reader.  This module communicates with the IRM server to determine what access level is available to the recipient.  In this scenario the document is “tethered” to the IRM server so it is still under control.

In the context of IRM and “native” MS-Office files, Microsoft has continued to improve IRM functionality beginning with Office 2003 and including Office 10.   I mention this for readers sending Word documents rather than PDF files which is often the case during the edit cycle.

A free option (this is not an endorsement and there are other free options) to consider is FilesAnywhere.  It is easy to use which is a real plus.  See a sample document quarantined here.

A couple of products to look at:
- Watchdox
- FileOpen
- Brainloop
- Adobe Livecycle at

Happy Holidays 
This is the last post for 2011.  Thank you for your readership, comments, and suggestions.