Do you create PDF documents that you sell directly – as eBooks — or include as part of a paid program?  Are they hosted on your server?  Other people may be sharing the links to these documents with others and thereby cheating you out of your payment.

I recently discovered a site called www.ebookbrowse.com that included links to PDF documents of one of my clients — documents that were part of her $997 paid program — that she didn’t know were being shared online.

In doing some further research about this site, I learned several things:

  1. They use a sophisticated search engine to locate PDFs on the web to display to their users.
  2. They allow users to post links to PDFs to share with other users.
  3. They do not host the PDFs on their servers, but rather create links back to the original material.
  4. They will remove copyrighted material if asked.

Since they do not host the material on their server and they only link to publicly available documents, they do not feel that they are breaking any laws by providing this service to their users.  And, from a legal standpoint, they are not.  They will remove your material if you let them know it is copyrighted and you don’t want it listed, but how would you know it was there?  You wouldn’t.

I found out my client’s files were being distributed by this site by researching the domains pointing to her site.  She only has 40, so the list wasn’t challenging to check out, but if your site has many hundreds or thousands of domains pointing to it, you may never know that your material is being shared this way.

Thankfully, with a bit of protection in place, your materials will never show up on a site like this.

This website uses two methods to find materials to share:

  1. Search engine results.
  2. Links posted by users.

Any protection methods that you put into place need to address both methods.

Since my client had her program participants download the many program files — nearly all PDFs —  from a single page on her WordPress site, protecting the documents was fairly easy:

First, I added password security to the PDFs themselves.  This security prevents users from using copy/paste to copy out the contents of the document for their own use.  But more importantly, it prevents search engines from accessing the meta data in the document itself, making it much less likely that the contents of your PDF will show up in SERPS.  (For directions, see the Sidebar at right).

Second, I installed Download Manager.  This free plugin for WordPress controls access to your files in two ways: 1. It doesn’t use the standard WordPress upload file to store the files, making them more difficult to find on your server, and 2. When people download your materials, the direct link to the document is not shown.

If my client was selling her document as an eBook, or her product consisted of 1 or 2 documents, I would have recommended she use eStore as her shopping cart solution.  Unlike many of the big name shopping cart solutions, eStore lets you sell products composed of multiple files AND it creates expiring, encrypted download links for those files.  For digital products, you really can’t beat this solution (Besides, it’s low one-time fee makes it super affordable).

WordPress Users: If you are using your WordPress uploads folders to host files — pdfs, docs, images, mp3s, videos, etc — you may be surprised to learn that most of these files are searchable on the Internet. Navigate to www.yourdomain.com/wp-content/uploads/ or search for one of your documents by name to check. You might be surprised by just how much of your premium content could be found for free online.

Thankfully, the fix is easy. Install the Safely Disable Directory Browsing plugin to prevent access to the uploads folder by search or google bot. If any of your content has already been cataloged by search engines, it will be removed from results the next time your site is crawled — or you can request it be removed through your webmaster tools account to speed up the process.

What, if anything, do you do to protect your documents online?  Please share your resources in the Comments below.

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Protecting Your PDF Documents Online — 9 Comments

  1. Hi Lesa,

    I had always seen eBooks that were once being sold, now suddenly for free on some third party website and wasn’t sure how that happened. So this was a real eye opener! When I start implementing more paid programs, this will definitely come in handy.

    Thanks so much for the assistance with protecting our hard earned work. 🙂

    • If something is posted somewhere online, people can find it, steal it, or share it with others. It’s important to remember this and take steps to protect your materials online. No system is prefect and if someone *really* wants to hack into your site and steal your stuff, they probably will. But you don’t need to leave the door open and the lights on for them! Just a couple of easy — and free! — steps can make all the difference.

  2. I agree, eStore is the best place to keep your documents safe and secured. Estore is very well-organized and i think it would help.

  3. I love this article-it’s so useful and clear, with simple steps to protect your hard work. Thanks so much for sharing. I know someone who really needs to read this as they’re too afraid to upload their ebook for fear of it being ‘stolen’ online. Cheers

  4. This was great advice Lesa. I’ve only just worked out how to upload documents as PDF files on my site but plan to do more in the future and had never even thought of protecting them.

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