Circumvent PDF DRM… with Gmail!

Apparently, Gmail’s built-in “View as HTML” functionality, which allows you to view the content of PDF files (and other types of documents) as if they were classic webpages, works regardless of the files’ usage restrictions (= DRM). I don’t think this is a bad thing ;-) but just wonder how Google can back up this design decision — or is it a mistake?

Gmail screenshot

You can try this out yourself:

  1. Create or download a DRMed PDF file. I used this file from the Adobe site.
  2. Open the file with Adobe Reader and click on the “Lock” icon in the down-left corner to see which restrictions apply. Our example file can be printed, but editing or text extraction is not allowed.
  3. Send the file as an attachment to your Gmail account.
  4. Open the mail you’ve sent yourself and choose the “View as HTML” option below the (empty) mail body.
  5. An HTML version of the encrypted file is displayed — part of the layout might be gone, but the text can be extracted with a simple copy/paste command. In case the original PDF file had printing restrictions, those are stripped as well.

Note 1: a quick test with a PDF file with print restrictions yielded similar results — Gmail converted the file in question without any problem.

Note 2: Google Search on the other hand does comply with the copy restrictions inside PDF files — this search query for instance gives only non-encrypted PDF files a “View as HTML” option.

Update: Google has tweaked its PDF viewing functionality, so the trick described above doesn’t work anymore.

Update 2: There’s a similar loophole in Scribd (for now).

Update 3: Scribd was updated and now rejects DRMed PDF uploads.

Comments on “Circumvent PDF DRM… with Gmail!” (feed)

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  1. just pass the PDF threw PDFBlender [uses Ghostscript]… then all the protection will be removed…

    » Anonymous on February 11th, 2007 at 23:40

  2. I just tried it with gmail, and it seems to be working there again.

    » Anonymous on February 14th, 2007 at 08:52

  3. PDF Password Remover kicks ass! No need for the G-Mail trick.

    » j-dawg on March 4th, 2007 at 13:20

  4. I downloaded a book from and couldn’t get any of the mentioned programs to remove the DRM restrictions. But, I did manage to find a way. I used the method from this site:

    The only thing I had to make sure of was that before I opened the modified file, I already had the original file loaded in Acrobat. Otherwise it would give me a security error.

    » Lane on March 25th, 2007 at 17:18

  5. I use a large LCD screen, do a screen capture, batch process the captured images with a photoshop script to decrease the canvas size and then churn all of the images through OCR. Any 19″ LCD with pivot can do one page with 100% 1:1 size. All you need is patience and about an hour to convert a large book into images for OCR.

    Even better, you can import raw images into PDF format with Acrobat Professional and use the Adobe OCR package.

    As I once made pocket money doingscanned conversions of printed material to PDF / Word I know this method will work.

    » Nerdy dude on April 22nd, 2007 at 14:14

  6. […] a year ago, I wrote about how Gmail’s “View as HTML” functionality allowed you to get around secure […]

    » chosaq » Circumvent PDF DRM… with Scribd! on April 24th, 2007 at 01:52

  7. I downloaded a file protected with DRM, none of the solutions explained work. Do you have other ideas ?
    (I guess not, but maybe in this wonderful world one would come up with something wonderful)

    » drm hater on July 25th, 2007 at 02:17

  8. Someone attached a PDF to a note he sent my Gmail account. I wish to attach that PDF to a note I’ll send from my Gmail account. Is there an easy way to do this? (Easier, that is, than downloading the PDF to my office PC, composing a note in Word, attaching the PDF, then emailing the Word file through Gmail?

    » feld on August 13th, 2007 at 10:52

  9. There are many ways to crack Adobe DRM – print to a file driver and then straight back into PDF.

    If printing is not allowed use a screengrabber.

    And lastly since you can share your Adobe login credentials with anyone what actually is it protecting?

    So apart from converting back to PDF, screen grabbing and sharing content, what does it prevent?

    » Graham on April 12th, 2008 at 01:25

  10. Easy. Download pdffactory. Print to pdffactory. When the print preview comes up, save as pdf. Done.

    Blow me, Adobe.

    » PO'd Former Adobe Customer on May 21st, 2008 at 11:26

  11. Wow, #60 commenter’s tip worked! You just have to write pdffactory crack on Google, to find one. Download, install, follow what s/he said, and that’s it.

    Worked like a charm. THANK YOU!!

    » Fem on May 27th, 2008 at 08:18

  12. You can try this simple online decoder to unlock excel and pdf files ONLINE:

    Visit :

    » Techie on June 20th, 2008 at 18:18

  13. none of them working…..

    » Anonymous on August 5th, 2008 at 16:02

  14. Files that are locked for printing and copying of text are a problem. You can’t even do a screen print. None of the PDF unprotect programs that I checked can handle DRM.

    » Hippo on October 23rd, 2008 at 05:59

  15. There is an Adobe ADEPT-DRM removal method – you must be the licensee for the document – works for EPUB and PDF currently – you must install Python 2.6.1 and a couple of Python extensions then run the Pythons programs to download the key then another Python program to remove DRM for your appropriate document.
    See the discussion thread here :

    » Anonymous on March 16th, 2009 at 00:08