Roland Turner

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The “other” problem with DRM

PDF’s permissions system is a little ridiculous (pirates will work around it anyway), but it also causes unintended consequences.

I’m reading RAND’s How Terrorist Groups End on my new BlackBerry. It doesn’t want to download the entire thing (too large), so I figured I’d burst it (chop it into single-page PDFs) and read it that way.

Sadly, the permissions in the file appear to be set to defaults (all withheld) which pdftk helpfully honours, even to the point of preventing bursting. (Note that this is an operation that is trivial on paper; print it and handle the pages individually.)

Others have said it before, but DRM’s biggest problem may in fact not be the harm that its proponents accept as collateral damage (research, political comment, …) but entirely ancillary damage of this type.

(The one-line fix is here, but the need to do this would be enough to block most people proceeding with entirely reasonable courses of action.)