Of the many ways of protecting PDF documents and files, digital rights management (DRM) control systems stand out because they give authors full control over who can view, print, edit or copy their creative works, and also control over features such as screen grabbing. One of the earliest approaches to DRM was introduced by Adobe Systems i.e. Adobe Content Server. This product has undergone several updates since its invention but in 2010 it was withdrawn after facing a handful of undefined challenges.
Adobe Content Server was built with the aim of providing an extension to the digital rights management controls that early Adobe PDF products were capable of. The controls were mainly based on password controlled user access, prevention of editing and exporting (but not necessarily copying), and the reduction of printing quality. The main problem was that other PDF readers (non Adobe) undermined these controls and so users could bypass the security parameters publishers had set. This predicament resulted in Content Server undergoing a couple of iterations and releases, which were introduced but later withdrawn. Perhaps the most notable is the last release, v4, which featured the ability to control the use of protected documents to a maximum of six devices, the amount of prints of a protected document that could be made within a given time frame, and an end but renewable date within which the protected document could be accessed.
The digital rights management controls provided by Adobe Content Server could be used to protect PDF documents and also those in the Adobe digital edition format, ePub. To use content server, Adobe created a licensing model that revolved around a joining fee, an annual maintenance fee and a fee for every protected document delivered to the customer or end user.
Many people still ask why the Adobe Content Server was withdrawn and the answer may be attributed to the PDF documents themselves and how the passwords were supplied along with the documents, a weakness that was thoroughly exploited by many firms most notably Elcomsoft.
Getting to the specifics, the September 2001 edition of the Adobe Content Server stated EBX as the preferred technique of packaging the documents. This technique provided fine digital rights management control over the permissions that accompanied eBooks and thus allowed users to read them using Adobe Acrobat. A while later, a technique for deciphering the key accompanying the document was developed which also revealed how the protection architecture operated along with its control elements.
However, all is not lost as there is still hope for publishers in PDF with regards to the launch of effective DRM enforcement programs that will avoid the flaws Adobe suffered and especially those supplying the decryption keys along with protected files.
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