How to disable the downloading of PDFs from a website?

There are over four billion Internet users in the World right now. It is hard to imagine how many files are downloaded every minute. The Internet is a depth that seems to be endless. And somewhere in this crowd, your website shows up hand in hand with the files you have worked so hard on.

The constant development of technology allows us to share knowledge, but you don’t always want to share 100% of everything. If you are wondering what to do to prevent the PDF files placed on your website from circulating freely among users, you are in the right place. Below you will find some practical tips on how to protect your files from unwanted downloads.

Why should your PDF files be protected?

There are many reasons, and everyone might have their own. However, one of the main reasons why you should take care of your files’ security is commerce. If your company sells guides or ebooks, you don’t want everyone to be able to access them from one direct download. After all, you get paid for those downloads, so don’t make them freely shareable. 

If you make your own content, you should protect it as well. You don’t want to find your text or graphics on some random site signed with somebody else’s name. Many artists, especially those who publish their work on the Internet, are in danger of facing plagiarism. It is crucial to lower the risk of this happening. 

Another aspect is simply privacy; some files are only intended to be viewed by a narrow group of people, not for every Internet user who wants to. If a given piece of content is dedicated to a small bunch of people, you should take care of it and not allow open access to that file. 

Whatever reason(s) you have for protecting your files, it’s a good idea to do so. And we will tell you how. Let’s dive into this topic.

#1 Establish your limits

In this case, it is not the sky that is the limit. It is your role to establish the boundaries. For example, if you know that only 5 people should be able to download your PDF, select 5 as the limitation. A 6th person won’t be able to do so.

Another option is to set limits on the views of a given PDF. However, remember to notify those for whom the file is intended. If someone opens it once to overview it quickly and wants to analyze it later, the limit may be an unpleasant surprise. A very nice solution is also limiting the number of users who can view a document simultaneously. You can set this number to, e.g., 2 users, or the size of the group for which this file is intended.

A somewhat advanced solution is restriction of access for only a given number of IP addresses. You can choose how many and exactly which devices exactly will have access to your files, as you long as you know their IPs. For some, checking such information may not be feasible. No wonder that the average internet user doesn’t do this on a daily basis. It may also be troublesome if a given user changes devices, then they will no longer have access to the PDF.

If you are wondering how to set such limits, HelpRange is your answer. It allows you to take control over your PDF files. This tool provides high-quality solutions to make you sure that your files are safe. It lets you establish user limits, IP address, or a maximum number  of downloads. You can also completely block the ability to download and/or print your files.

You can also generate links via HelpRange instead of uploading PDFs on your own website. If you choose this option, some extra features will be available. You will be able to check how much time a given user spent on each page, and even access some very cool heat maps. This feature allows you to trace over which parts of your document users spend most of their time, and where their cursors move to most often, etc. Thus, it will enable establishing which parts of a document are of the most valuable for readers

If you are looking for a helper that will make your files more secure, you should definitely check out HelpRange

#2 Set passwords 

If you want to protect something digitally, you should set a password – the more complicated, the better. By establishing a password, you can be almost 100% sure that only chosen people (those who know the password) will have access to the secured content.

So if you want to keep your files secure, set a password and share them with your friends. This way, your content will be safe and sound, even if the PDFs fall into the wrong hands.  How to set a password? There are a few plugins that you can add to your WordPress dashboard, thanks to which you can set a password when adding a file. You can also use HelpRange to set such security measures and prevent your files from being opened by unwanted people.

Another option is to protect the whole page where the file is located. Furthermore, you can set a password to shelter a post or page in WordPress Settings. To do this you need to make a few clicks on your admin page. While creating new content on your website, you need to edit the Visibility option. Switch from Public to Password Protected and type the magic combination.

#3 Make it expire someday

WordPress has several plugins, and some of them, like the Protect WordPress Pages & Posts plugin, can prove very useful for protecting your files. With this plugin, you can block the original link to a post or the entire page. It will not be available to the public eye and will not be displayed in search engine results. This plugin allows you to create a new link that you can send directly to your friends. Each URL that you create can have an expiry date that is set by yourself.

There are also such extensions as Private Magic Links. Thanks to this, the address to your website or post where a file is located will expire automatically, for example after 1 minute, and a new private URL will be created in its place.

Each unauthorized user will see a 404 error page once the link has expired. This will successfully protect your content from unwanted views or downloads.

Creating an expiry date makes things very easy. You can be sure that an unwelcome audience will not gain access to your files. What’s more, after the specified date, there will be no way to read your PDF.

#4 Use PDF Viewer

As mentioned above, there are plenty of WordPress plugins. Such facilities allow you to embed files directly into your site’s content. Thanks to this, you can allow your subscribers to view a file in a convenient browser viewer on your website, instead of downloading the file. PDF Embedder is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress that supports embedding files on pages. Thanks to this plugin, you can allow users to take a look at a document in a handy viewer, yet downloading it would not be a piece of cake. If you have the premium version you can add a download button, but if you don’t want to do so then there is no need. So you are in charge here!

#5 Access for a logged-in member only

One of the more straightforward solutions is simply to limit the group of recipients to trusted ones. You can assume that this group of people who set up accounts on your website or who pay for a subscription are trustworthy. In this case, it is worth trying to ensure that the content provided is unique and of high quality. In order to provide files for the chosen people only, it is worth creating a restriction in the form of forcing a login. If the files are placed on pages that only logged-in users can access, you can be sure that your PDFs are in safe hands. 

Another popular solution is to force logging-in in order to download or print files. After pressing the Print or Save As button, a login window appears. Without filling it in with the correct data, the requested action will not be fulfilled. It is another option that proves how important it is to give people the ability to show their appreciation. In this case, if users want to support you and your online activity, allow them to do something about it – e.g. set up an account on your website or subscribe. And this will let you have control over your content. 

#6 Customized preview

In other words, do not show everything or mark what is yours. By enabling a preview of your file, you are giving users, for example, an introduction or table of contents. In this way, they are able to determine whether a given file contains what they are looking for or not.

But if you add a watermark to preview pages (and preferably to the entire file), it will provide a clear signal – don’t copy the content. If a specific user wanted to plagiarize or take credit for your creation, thanks to watermarks they would not be able to do so. A watermark is like a deed of ownership. Many users may choose not to download a given file if they see that they can only read it, instead of copy it. Try it out, and you will see that such a little change as adding a watermark can prevent your files from being plagiarised.

#7 Make it unprintable and unsaveable

This solution requires at least basic HTML knowledge. To upload a PDF, you can use the <embed> tag, which allows embedding PDFs on your website. You can also use <iframe> instead of <embed>. But when it comes to browsers’ PDF viewers, there is often still a download button. How to make it disappear? 

One option is adding #toolbar=0 to the PDF content. What does this mean in practice? Your HTML code would look like this: src={PDF + “#toolbar=0”}. Unfortunately, there is still the ability to right-click and thus click Save As. There are also multiple solutions to prevent right-clicking (to prevent saving or copying the link of a picture or file), but they may not be as intuitive or easy to use as the ones mentioned above.

If you feel up to changing your website’s HTML code, the above method is one of the fastest to prevent the downloading of files from your site.

Over to you

Preventing your PDFs from unwanted downloads should be a priority. It is widely known that the Internet and copyright restrictions have quite a complicated relationship. Many people go unpunished after copying entire articles or files from different sites without mentioning the sources. Being online gives users a feeling of anonymity, and although it is not actually true, many users forget about this fact. If you want to protect your files and what you have created, you can keep them safe by using any of the above solutions. We hope that they will help to decrease the number of unwelcome downloads from your website. 

Importantly, if you find that your materials have been used unlawfully, without your permission, or without acknowledgement, remember that it is a violation of the law and that you can hold these people to account.