Adobe Digital Rights Management Technologies – ACS vs. LCRM

Adobe Digital Rights Management Technologies – ACS vs. LCRM

When we meet with companies we get a substantial number of questions about how to protect digital content. Adobe has at least 2 offerings in the Digital Rights Management space, Adobe Content Server and Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management. These products both fall into the DRM category, but they solve very different problems for very different markets. This article will discuss the capabilities and licensing of each and what problems they are targeted at solving.

Adobe Content Server – DRM for Commercial eBooks

This product, also known as ACS, is capable of securing content in the ePub and PDF file formats. The product is sold by Adobe partners as a server license, and there are transaction charges incurred for each individual content license granted.

The target market for this offering is eBook or other digital content distributors such as Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble or Google. Content is licensed on a one to one basis and rights are applied at the time a specific item is purchased. More specifically, content is licensed to an individual with a specific Adobe ID or Vendor ID, and may not be consumed on reading devices that are not registered with that ID. ACS provides granular control over the rights that may be granted with each content license. For example a book store may sell a popular title for one price with the rights to read it on multiple devices, re-download it a future date and print a range of pages, and may also have the same book listed at a different price with more restrictive rights. Once rights are applied, generally at purchase time, these rights cannot be modified or revoked.

The following rights can be controlled with Adobe Content Server:

  • The ability to open and view content is restricted to a device(s) or app(s) which are activated with the Adobe ID or Vendor ID of the individual who licensedpurchased the content.
  • The number of devices a piece of digital content can be viewed on can be controlled. Limit of one or up to 6
  • The ability to print or not print licensed content, with control of the range of pages that may be printed as well
  • Content licenses may be permanent, or have an expiration date. If the expiration date is 60 days or less the transaction fees are lower. After a loan has expired the document is still physically present, but can no longer be opened.
  • The ability to copy text from licensed content can be granted or withheld.
  • The ability to limit the number of concurrent loans each book in the catalogue will allow.
  • The ability to re-download licensed content at a future date without re-purchasing can provided or withheld.

Notable – PDF files that are rights managed with ACS cannot be viewed in the Adobe Acrobat family of products. To consume a PDF file that has been rights managed with ACS a PDF viewer must contain the Adobe Reader Mobile SDK technology. There are a multitude of such free, or for fee viewers available for every platform you could imagine, but there are no plug-ins for Acrobat or Reader to support decryption of the Adobe Content Server DRM. (sounds like a product opportunity)

Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management – DRM for Enterprise Documents

LCRM, formerly known as LiveCycle Policy Server, can apply digital rights control to multiple file formats including PDF, Microsoft Office, CAD, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and Flash video files. The product is sold as a server license with additional negotiated charges for each piece of digital content that is rights managed.

The target market for LCRM is enterprises or government agencies that wish to control who has access to sensitive information such as price lists, financial results or medical records. Content is rights managed on a one to one or one to many basis and rights are applied in advance of consumption. Specifically, a set of rights can be applied to a document and to exercise these rights a user ID must be authenticated with their LDAP or Microsoft Active Directory credentials. Rights can be granted to individuals or groups, and can be revoked at any time. For example rights to a financial report may be granted to anyone who is a member of the “accounting” group within an organization. If that individual is removed from the “accounting” group, or leaves the company, they may still have a copy of the document in their possession but they will no longer be able to open and view it. In this regard LCRM differs from ACS as Adobe Content Server does not phone home to validate credentials and rights after they have been granted, but LCRM does phone home.

The following rights can be controlled with LCRM:

  • The ability to open and view content is restricted to individuals or groups of individuals who have been granted such rights.
  • The ability to print or not print managed content, with control of the range of pages that may be printed as well
  • Content licenses may be permanent, or have a predefined expiration date.
  • Content licenses can be revoked at any time. If a document’s validity date has expired it may notify the reader that a newer version of the document is available for download.
  • The ability to copy text from licensed content can be granted or withheld.
  • Content access can be audited. LCRM administrators can track who accessed documents and when, as well as determine who attempted to access a document and was denied access.
  • Content access can be allowed off-line or denied. If offline access is allowed it can be restricted to a defined amount of time before credentials must be re-validated.
  • Content access can be provided to anonymous users. For example a document may be distributed freely on the Internet, but can still have an expiration date after which it cannot be viewed or may direct the viewer to a more current version.
  • Content Rights can be applied automatically. For example a company policy may require that all documents created on its copy machines or received/sent as email attachments must have usage rights applied.

Notable – PDF files that are rights managed with LiveCycle Rights Management can be viewed in the Adobe Acrobat family of products on most platforms including recent versions of Reader for Android and iOS. LCRM also provides plug-ins for decrypting rights managed documents in Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite applications and various CAD tools. LCRM protected files are not viewable within 3rd party PDF tools.

As a final thought, the Adobe Acrobat family of products also offer a level of file protection for PDF files through password protection. Password protected PDF files can prevent or allow viewing, copying, printing, or modification. Password protection can be applied within Acrobat or any of the various products that have been built with the Adobe PDF Library, and can be consumed within all of the Adobe PDF viewing products and most 3rd party PDF viewers.

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