Apr 30, 2012 - Useful Stuff    2 Comments

How To Copy and Paste Form a Password-protected PDF File

PDF files are used everywhere today, so I hope this post would be more useful than the one on Swarovski pen refill. Anyway, this post would not tell you how to break codes or anything like that – it is rather a description of a completely legal way to copy and paste text from a PDF file, that is password-protected. By the way, before we start, let me warn you of the following: although the method described does not involve any code-breaking or other illegal activity, the information, that you copy and paste from a protected file may be privileged, protected, confidential or whatever. So, make sure it is legal to use the information in a way you intend to use it before applying the technique described .  I used this method mainly to copy text from a PDF to Word and to use the word file in various CAT tools (computer-assisted translation tools like TRADOS), but there are dozens of situations when you may benefit from having the ability to just copy and paste text instead of retyping it. Well, let us get to the point.

PDF files have several types of protection: the author may limit printing a file, making changes in the document, copying content or adding comments and changing form fields. This is how it looks in Adobe Acrobat:

As you see, the author may tick one or some of the boxes to disallow people to do certain things with the file. If the third option on a picture above is chosen, it prevents copying text or extract the information from a file in other ways, like copying pictures or making screenshots. But, if the author has not limited printing the file, this limitation is very easy to overcome without any hacking skills whatsoever. All you would need is a monkey wrench PDF printer.

PDF printer is a virtual printer that creates PDF files from anything that can be printed. There are several of them out there, but I use the one called PDFcreator – it works fine for me, and it’s completely free to download and use. You can download it from http://www.pdfforge.org/. I expect that this method would also work for other PDF printing software out there, but it has not been tested yet. After you get youself a PDF printer, it should appear as one of the printers in the print dialog box.

Basically, all you have to do to be able to copy and paste anything from a password-protected PDF file is to print it with your PDF printer. You would get a new PDF file, that is an exact copy of the previous one, except for the limitations, since it was created by you, and you have not set any. Again, make sure you are not breaking any laws by using the material you are about to copy and paste!



  • What if you cannot use the “print” option?

    • I’m sure there should be some solution, although I have not found one yet. Anyway, the solution above would not work if printing option is disabled. One of the ways though would be to make screenshots of the pages, save them as PDF and use an OCR tool. Kind of cumbersome, but that might work.

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