Locking files to prevent theft

I designed a publication for a local non-profit, as well as the ads. I used Illustrator to create a pretty cool illustration for their casino night fundraiser ad. It was commercially printed, then the client put the PDF online so the general public could see it. Then a different non-profit sees the ad, EXTRACTS it from the PDF, changes the text, and starts redistributing it to promote their own casino night.

This has happened before with a different non-profit client. In both cases I contacted the directors of the thieving non-profits to let them know they violated my copyright, and the situation was resolved to my satisfaction. But those are just the ones I’ve caught. There are probably others doing the same thing.

I don’t want to play a perpetual game of whack-a-mole. Is there a way to prevent this… locking specific art/pages in a publication that are likely to be stolen? Keep in mind that the original client still needs to have their users be able to print out copies of the ad. I can’t impair their usability.

I know I can rasterize the entire page for use in the PDF version of the publication, and that would make it a less attractive target, but are there other things that can be done?

You can lock PDFs to a degree, but in most cases the security can be cracked fairly easily. You could give your printer the vector PDF, and give your client a web-quality JPEG that they can use to promote it.

As a rule of thumb: if it’s displayed on a user’s computer screen, they can steal it. DRM is what combats this rule of thumb, but I think it’s mostly out-of-reach to the general public and it’s limited anyways.

Houses can be easily broken into despite locking the doors. Cars can be stolen even without the keys. A desk drawer might have a lock, but those locks can be broken.

Everyone knows this kind of security is not absolute, but it effectively dissuades casual theft. Security that prevents 90 percent of the problem is still a whole lot better than doing nothing at all.

For some reason, though, when it comes to digital information, people often don’t appreciate the difference between things that need 99.99999% protection and those things that just need to be made more difficult to steal.

Yeah, a password-protected PDF, for example, can be cracked by those knowing how to do it, but the point is that most don’t and won’t. So these kinds of 90 percent measures are still worth taking.

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