(you can also find me on LinkedIn)

(also LinkedIn)

Unable to Modify Adobe Acrobat Certified Documents?

Earlier this week, one of my webinar students asked me a question and I thought I should share it here. In order to provide context, please allow me to set the scene.

The student, a CPA, had recently taken my Learning Adobe Acrobat Pro CPE course. One of the topics I discuss in this course is how to markup a portable document file (PDF) for research by adding bookmarks, highlighting, underlining, arrows and textboxes, etc.

This student, we'll call him "Richard" for our purposes, had visited the irs.gov website to research a particular tax topic. At some point, he was redirected to a third-party website to download the desired document.

Richard downloaded the document, but when he attempted to modify it using Adobe Acrobat Pro, he found it was certified. He tried one of the techniques I explained in my course to try to modify the document, but was unsuccessful. He asked me:

Is there a way to highlight, underline, etc a document that is "certified[?]"

For example if I go to the irs site and then to code or regs, I am taken to cornell.edu, and if I copy to pdf I cannot highlight or bookmark for reseach purposes. What do you do in this case...[?]

We had a couple of email exchanges. Here is a synopsis of my answer:
The short answer to the specific question you asked is "No, you cannot modify a certified pdf." That's the only way the issuer can assert it is a true original document.

Here's a link on the subject you may find interesting: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-106s761enr/pdf/BILLS-106s761enr.pdf

However, that is not the real question you are asking. What you really want to know is how to get a document you can modify.

The most obvious solution is to print the document and then scan it back into digitized form for markup. This works, but a long document can kill a lot of time and maybe a couple of trees.

The best way I have found is to simply print to PDF. This skips the scan to paper phase and goes straight to digital. You should be able to markup the new document however you want.

Richard responded: "You gave me the idea of trying Note or Word. I got a decent result by first [converting] to word and then back to pdf." [Editorial note: This is a technique I had described in my CPE course.]

In my reply, I advised:

Be sure to try the print to PDF approach. This should give you an exact replica, but without the certification protection, and it's a lot quicker than converting to Word and back.

The exact process depends on what device and operating system you are using, whether or not you are printing from a web browser (and if you are printing from a web browser, which browser you are using), etc. but the concept is the same. You are either selecting a PDF driver as the printer (which you have because you installed Adobe Acrobat Pro); or saving to a PDF file (instead of printing -- as is the case in the Google Chrome browser).

Either way, you have an OCR PDF that is an exact replica of the original -- but without the certification protection.

Richard was using Adobe Acrobat Pro, but this "print to file" technique should work no matter which PDF driver you use to print the document.

LKJ CPA