Working around PDF protection for annotations …?

I have a PDF that I have to fill in, sign, and return. The PDF is designed as a fillable form, but it’s “protected" in some manner. So my Mac can’t save it, iOS won’t let me annotate it (it says I need the owner password to do so), etc.

Apart from printing this thing, filling it out by hand, and then scanning it to return to them (did I mention it’s required that I email the document back? :slight_smile: ), is there an easy way to sort this out?

I mean….their security settings are literally preventing me from doing what they’re asking me to do without involving both a printer and a scanner.

I know the standard solution is “email the people who created it and ask them to fix the issue”. That’s where I get to add that, complicating this matter, the creator of said PDF is an unknown department of a nonprofit organization that seems to require the approval of the board of directors to make a decision to do just about anything. Any / all emails like this get a reply along the lines of “we’ve noted your feedback”. They may or may not ever actually reply.

Anybody got a solution?

And bonus if the solution is on iOS, because the document requires a signature - and that’s so, so much easier with an Apple Pencil. :slight_smile:

Could you save a copy of the document and annotate that?

Saving copies doesn’t seem to work. The copies are still protected.

What about print, then save as PDF?

The simplest solution is probably best. Screenshots or export to jpg, then rescan.

I feel you, though. I have encountered many confusing PDF uses throughout The Bureacracy.

1 Like

I’ve done this before, but it’s been awhile, so I don’t remember the steps, but if you want to send me the URL (privately if you’d like) I’ll see what I can do.

I’ve had luck Print_Save as PDF in these cases.

To clarify, this came in via an email. I could dig up the web-based copy, but that’s yet another task I have to accomplish.

And I can apparently print to PDF on my Mac (although I have seen occasional instances like this where that doesn’t work).

But that means I have to switch from my iPad to my Mac, open the doc in preview, do the Print -> Save As PDF, save it somewhere that’s synced (like iCloud Drive), etc. And with iCloud that sometimes means there’s a non-trivial delay. And by “non-trivial delay” I mean “it was 30 minutes later and the sync hadn’t done its thing yet”. :slight_smile:

The sync immediately started working after I finally got the document signed and returned, of course. I wound up going back to my Mac, copying the doc into DEVONthink, syncing that database (also via iCloud - but this file showed up right away, whereas the other didn’t ?!?!?!?!), double-checked to make sure iCloud hadn’t done its thing yet, opened the doc in DEVONthink, signed it, and shared it back via email.

Just seems like a ton of hoop-jumping to reply to an email with an annotated signature. :smiley:

1 Like

I ended up using and because I could get it so that it was an un-encrypted file, but I kept losing the form fields.

So finally I just googled “pdf strip password” and those were two of the sites that came up which didn’t require any account or anything to use them.

Probably wouldn’t use them on a Super Secret Plan To Take Over the World, but for this it seemed fine.

I did not try them on iOS, so I don’t know if that part of the requirement was met.

I can give it a shot on iOS. :slight_smile: I’ll bookmark the site.

I honestly don’t care about the fillable fields. Did you try doing that part on iOS? If not, no big deal - the help is greatly appreciated!

I did not. I didn’t see your latter message about that being the main goal until later.

I do really wish people would stop being dumb about PDFs.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

1 Like

I usually just airdrop things to myself in these situations.

Y’know, I keep forgetting about AirDrop. Thanks for the reminder!

1 Like

Agree 100%. I mean, if one is selling a fancy eBook for $300 and wants some basic protections to stop the average person from hacking it, it makes a little bit of sense. But if it’s a free form that you’re expecting volunteers to fill out in order to basically do something for you for free….

That’s good advice for so many situations. :slight_smile: Thanks so much TJ!

Screenshot, export to jpg would lose the OCR layer . Then you could not search or select text in the future.

Yes, re-scan, but at the cost of added steps and wasted time. And if you have one of the notorious orphaned Fujitsu Scansnap scanners, you can’t do that any more if you have “upgraded” to macOS Catalina. With IOS, of course, you could re-scan with an app. Again, added steps …

//rant off :grinning:

It’s time for someone to publish a definitive “EPF”: Etiquette for PDF Files. First on the list: Do not lock, protect or otherwise restrict PDF files except for limited specific circumstances: certain financial documents, binding legal contract, etc.

Analogous etiquette-requiring situations exist for emails and text messages. Don’t “Reply All” to emails unless you really intend to bother and interrupt “All”. And group text messages should be all but abandoned. Some of my relatives insist on sending text messages containing vacation pictures to large groups. Inevitably most in the group respond (to “All”, of course) with vacuous replies (“love this!, great picture!”) or emoticons/emojis, which then precipitate even more responses. In the meantime, everyone’s phone “pings” for the rest of the day …

Sorry, I mis-wrote. By rescan I meant re-OCR. Definitely extra steps, yes.

I think this is a “fall in love with the sound” kind of problem, though. I don’t know of any etiquette that is universally followed, so you might as well find a convenient-as-possible way for you to deal with this whenever you encounter it.


Yes, of course. :grinning: My suggestion was tongue-in-cheek. Actual proposal of an etiquette would probably result in endless arguments, counter-proposals and bickering. I am amused rather than annoyed that people and organizations would send locked-down PDF files, then expect a return signed copy. Do they really think that people want to print, sign, then actually mail a paper copy?

1 Like

It would be more amusing if they would accept a mailed paper copy. The forms in question are required to be emailed. :slight_smile:


I would ask the sender to send the document to be signed in a digital signature format. He will have to send it using Adobe Sign, HelloSign or DocuSign or various other 3rd parties.
There is a digital trial and its authentic signature. Both will have signed copies too. If not ask them to remove the security or share the password to modify the doc.

I would not remove the password using password strippers. Thats document tampering.

As noted in the original post, the ultimate “sender” (i.e. the origin of this form) is an unknown department within a large nonprofit organization. The nonprofit organization has been asked multiple times over the course of 5 years to fix the document, and won’t reply other than “we’ve noted your feedback”.

It’s impossible to know whether or not the feedback is even getting to the people who would need to make the ultimate change. And obviously if one can’t get feedback directly to those people, asking them to rework using a whole different technology is impossible.

The PDF, as it is, is passed on to senior-level people, and they pass it on (usually via email) to their subordinates. So nobody in the distribution channel would have authority to change the method of signing anyway.

I don’t consider it “document tampering” if one isn’t tampering with the document. And the password isn’t part of the document. It’s part of the file on the disk, but it’s not part & parcel of the form itself.

Consider that if one printed, signed, scanned, and returned the PDF to the organization (the current method required to be in compliance with everything they’re asking) they’re effectively returning a copy of the complete text of the PDF, plus their signature, without the document’s original password. If they fill out a non-password-protected version of the PDF and sign it on their iPad, then email that back, they’re returning a copy of the complete text of the PDF, plus their signature, without the document’s original password.

Either way, the organization is receiving the exact same thing.

1 Like