Organizations around the world have used PDF forms to great effect for everything from product specifications to vacation requests, and everything in-between, plus many non-forms applications that leverage PDF forms technology.
Forms are, of course, not only for filling and printing, or submission to a server. It’s also fairly typical for users to want to save the contents of a form once they’ve gone to the trouble of filling it out, especially on longer forms.
Crashes aside, there are relatively few events in which office software can provoke howls of disbelief, despair and rage. Discovering on page 18, after hours of work, that a filled-out form simply cannot be saved in Adobe Reader, can produce just such a reaction!
There are four ways to deal with the fact that Adobe chooses to keep Reader incapable of saving data typed into a form.
(1) Buy Adobe Acrobat Standard ($299) or Adobe Acrobat Professional ($449). You’ll get a lot more than the ability to save a form; but if saving a form is all you want, this might seem a little steep.
Pro: 100% solution, forms may be saved with these applications.
Con: That’s a lot of money (and hassle) just to save a form!
(2) Buy a third-party PDF viewer for a lot less (usually <$99) with the ability to fill and save a PDF form. Some third-party PDF viewers will even fill and save a PDF form for free.
Pro: If the shoe fits, wear it.
(3) Use server software for PDF forms (such as our FDFMerge – apologies for the shameless plug) to set up a server that receives form data and returns a saved form back to the user.
Pro: Any Adobe Reader user with a network connection can use this solution
Con: Users have to be able to connect to a server.
(4) Use Reader Extensions; essentially a digital signature unlocking various capabilities in Adobe Reader, one of which is the ability to save a form.
Pro: Any Adobe Reader user can save forms with no fuss or bother.
Con: The opportunity for unsolicited, undesired communications with Adobe’s lawyers (see below)
Where do Reader Extensions come from?
Before encountering the downside, Option 4 (above) often appeals to organizations with forms because it allows them to leverage the reasonable assumption that every user has (or can readily get) the free Adobe Reader on their desktop.
So far, so good.
Today, Adobe Reader Extensions are available (essentially) in two ways:
- From Adobe Acrobat Professional, the aforementioned $449 application according to the terms of the Acrobat EULA (End User License Agreement). More on that below.
- From Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions Server at a typical price-per-form of 4 or even 5 digits. Call Adobe Systems or an Adobe Partner vending Reader Extensions to learn more!
The Acrobat EULA
When you installed Adobe Acrobat Professional 9.x, you agreed to the End User License Agreement (EULA) including a section entitled:
15.12 Acrobat Pro and Acrobat Pro Extended Feature
Don’t recall it? How odd, I thought everyone read through the license agreements when they install software! 🙂
Ok, but what does it mean? I’m no lawyer, but I’m comfortable in arguing that the text is somewhat ambiguous. Nonetheless, the clear idea is to limit the usage of Reader Extensions as conferred by Adobe Acrobat Professional to either 500 individual uses (ie, filled forms) or 500 “named users”.
Will this restriction apply to your PDF forms? Before you start spending money on a lawyer, think about how many times you expect the form to be filled, or how many (named) users might use it. If either of those numbers could come close to 500, you should consider getting a legal opinion on your exposure.
It’s not every day that you call your lawyer to find out if you can use your software, is it? Fun!
The Fine Print
Apart from the agreement you accept on installation, there’s nothing to warn the user against violating the EULA.
The Acrobat 9 application doesn’t advise users of the license limits, and it’s not in the product documentation either. You have to track down the EULA on your hard-drive.
Adobe is essentially inviting the user to violate the EULA, avoiding the substantial additional cost and hassle of LiveCycle Reader Extensions Server. For most, the consequences are an unknown – they’ve no idea that there’s any sort of limit – that language is buried in their end-user license agreement which they never read.
Post a PDF file with Reader Extensions to a publicly accessible website, and the chances are that Adobe will take a look. They may decide that you might be in violation of the EULA.
You may or may not have intended to violate the EULA. Unless you actually bothered to read the fine print in the 14 page agreement you accepted when you installed Acrobat (ha!), you’ve no idea that any rules governed Reader Extensions at all.
Make use of your PDF form with Acrobat-conferred Reader Extensions, however, and you may find yourself explaining your usage to Adobe’s lawyers.
By Duff Johnson