Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Mac Preview: Towards Breaching Bill C-61 (Copyright in Canada)

200807021624If you’re Canadian, and haven’t exiled yourself from society for the past several weeks, then you’ve heard about the Federal Conservative Party’s ‘dreaded’ Bill C-61″An Act to amend the Copyright Act”. While a lot of people have been talking somewhat broadly about the issues of digital locks, and posing their own examples about how Canadians will be criminalized when they use media in sensible ways, I wanted to talk about how Mac Preview threatens to criminalize a lot of Mac users.

Mac Preview

I’ll start with a quick quotation of how Apple describes Preview:

If you’ve got PDFs to read, or images to view, Preview makes it easy. This built-in PDF file viewer allows you to view, work with, and print PDF files; view and edit images (including JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PICT, and other image file formats). (Source)

Preview is an awesome integrated part of OS X, and it makes my daily life a lot nicer – no longer is Adobe something that I have to put up with on a regular basis! Another great feature of preview is the ability to print .PDF files that you already have opened. This might seem stupid to bring up, but it turns out that this feature is pretty important in the present computing environment that I find myself in.

Why Print a .PDF … to a .PDF?

There are great reasons to print .PDF, and they range from a personal fear or hatred of the Earth’s pollen-bearing agents (such as trees), to wanting a physical copy of a document to make notes on, and even using the print function to create another .PDF of the .PDF you have opened. You might be wondering if you just read that you might be interested in printing a .PDF file to a .PDF file – you did just read that, and I really do mean it.

There are some .PDF files that are laced with Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. This technology prevents you from manipulating the content in any fashion that isn’t pre-approved by the content’s creator. Inserting DRM on a file is oftentimes done to avoid legal issues, but more often than not it is set into a file so that users can only use content is a particular way, as identified by the content creator. While it might make sense to stop someone from making changes to a contract that has gone through a lengthy process with a lawyer, it makes less sense in other cases, such as publicly available documents and (in the more widely known case), purchased music files.

Let’s take Anagran’s white paper “Eliminating Network Congestion Anywhere with Fast Flow Technology from Anagran” as an example – this file (which you can only download after providing Anagran with a load of personal information) is coded so that you can’t make modifications to the file. This might not sound so bad (who really reads white papers, you might say), but if you want to keep notes in a digital format, and attached to Anagran’s .PDF, then by default Preview won’t let you save the document with your changes. The DRM in this .PDF actively prevents the user from saving the .PDF if any modifications or additions have been made to the file. This is a problem if you don’t want to quickly develop a growing pile of printed white papers, where they were printed for the sole purpose of making notes to the document. You’ll note that there isn’t a technology that prevents me from writing on the paper – DRM is special in that it actually takes away your right to use something, when in the thing’s previous technological format nothing prevented you from freely manipulating the content in a wide variety of ways.

Evading .PDF DRM in Preview

Say that you had downloaded Anagran’s aforementioned whitepaper, had made notes throughout the document, and only then discovered that the .PDF didn’t allow you to save the document if any modifications were made to it. You could just give up an print the document off….or you could do something particularly simple and effective that would evade and ultimately break the digital lock on the document.

After making the notes to the .PDF, you could do the following:

  1. Click Picture 2 in Preview
  2. Click on the PDF button in the print menu, as shown belowPicture 4
  3. From the drop down menu, click Save as PDF and save the file to the location desire

Congratulations! If you just followed the steps above, you have just bypassed/broke a digital lock. If you performed this operation after C-61 were made into law, you would have broken the law by writing on a .PDF and saving it.

A Sensible Copyright Bill?

It’s not unreasonable for me to want to make comments on a document for personal use – I do it all the time, when I mark up a newspaper, write in the margins of a book, or scribble directions on the back of a napkin. These mediums’ digital counterparts, however, might make it impossible to make those changes depending on whether or not the content creators use DRM to lock down their communication mediums. Does a bill that would make using digital media as we do analogue media illegal sound like a sensible copyright reform bill to you? I certainly don’t think so, and I hope that you don’t either. Contact your MP and demand that they take up the task of remedying the clear deficiencies in Bill C-61 as it has been presented in parliament.


  1. a) thank you for teaching me what ‘print to pdf’ means!

    b) I agree, this bill does not sound sensible. I use open source software via ubuntu/linux and one of the reasons is because of the spirit of share and share alike that exists within the linux community.

    c) off to contact my mp…

  2. Glad that I could help with the print-to-pdf option; there are some great print apps in Linux that let you print to pdf. I think that Ubuntu 8.04 lets you natively print to .pdf, but I’m not sure on that.

    The bill is scary, and bizarre – if you use Linux regularly, I would strongly suggest that you read the bill. It’s not the shortest, but you’ll find that the language is … unsettling.

    I’m still waiting for an MP! Mine resigned recently, and so I’ve been harassing candidates about this issue for a while now *grin*

  3. I use PDF’s for everything and I run “print-to-PDF” many times a day, but I never thought to print a PDF from another PDF. That opens so many possibilities. Thanks!

  4. Glad that I could help!

  5. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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