Selling digital goods saves a lot of headaches over physical products that require inventory, storage and shipping. However, piracy is a huge threat.
If you’ve arrived here to learn more about what you can (and should) do to protect your digital products, you deserve to be applauded for being proactive – very wise!
Taking reasonable precaution to protect your digital products is essential. This article will cover 5 actions you can take to make it harder for thieves to steal your products.
Please note that any discussion of copyright or other legal issues is never a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney. If you need specific advice, talk to a lawyer.
What is digital piracy?
When you discover that your intellectual property is being distributed by someone else, it’s frustrating and can feel really discouraging.
Digital piracy is the unauthorized online distribution of electronic copies of copyright protected material such as music, software and books. It can also take the form of dismantling your resource and using bits and pieces such as a excerpts of text or graphics.
You probably noticed the use of “copyright protected.” This is often an area of confusion for digital product creators.
Do I need to register my work? What protection does it offer?
Questions like this can be best answered by understanding a few key concepts.
What is copyright (and how to I get one)?
Copyright gives you the right to say how other people use your created work. This is especially important as it makes it possible for you sell your work online as a digital product. The work you create is referred to as intellectual property.
Protection applies to digital media such as text on your website and blog articles you write. Video lessons for your online course, client education handouts or guides, photography and eBooks are all considered digital media.
Include a copyright statement on your work to serve as both notification and deter infringement. The statement should include the word “copyright” or the symbol ©, your name or legal business name, year and rights statement such as “All rights reserved.”
The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)
If you’ve heard the term “takedown notice,” the DMCA is the law that established this process. It addresses how copyright infringement issues are handled when they occur online.
Whether your work is registered with the Copyright Office or not, you can still file a takedown notice. The process is described in great detail, but can still feel daunting. Taking some time to understand the basics can help you feel more calm when you find IP has been stolen.
How to Protect Your Digital Products
You can do a few key things that make it much harder for your digital products to be stolen (beyond copyright protection).
Tip 1 – Secure Your Digital Files and Videos
Digital products you create contain YOUR valuable IP – take steps to safeguard them. This includes both free as well as your paid products you create.
It doesn’t have to be technologically complicated to accomplish. Usually the most difficult part is understanding what features you need. From there, you can compare price, ease-of-use and make a choice.
Securing Downloadable Documents, eBooks and Printable Resources
The most popular file format for digital downloads if PDF. In the case of eBooks, there are other formats for specific e-readers and platforms. For this article, PDFs will be the focus.
Securing a PDF means it is encrypted. There are different options for encryption but commonly include requiring password protection to open, and restricting access edit, copy or even print the file. Encryption makes it difficult for anyone to simply copy and use parts of your work.
How to encrypt a PDF?
There are a number of free and paid options for encryption. One consideration is the level of encryption (128-bit vs 256-bit). The stronger the encryption, the more difficult it is to break and gain access to security restrictions you have set.
The gold standard for PDF encryption has long been Adobe Acrobat Pro. While expensive, it offers many advanced features such as creating advanced forms (fillable PDFs) and even digital signatures.
However, there are free and lower cost options that make encryption accessible even on a very small budget.
Free Encryption Tools
DeftPDF is a highly recommended, encryption tool (256-bit). It offers a complete set of tools for editing, merging and converting file types to and from PDF.
DeftPDF is a web-based tool and does not require any download or installation of software to your computer.
It excels at simplicity and options to encrypt and protect your PDFs.
The available security settings allow you to set a password that is required to open the file. This option is typically less common as it requires that you provide customers with a password and can make it onerous from a customer support standpoint.
By selecting “More Options,” you can set specific permissions. Be sure to require a password to change permissions. Note: This is not the same as setting password to open. Without setting a password here, security setting could be easily removed.
How to Encrypt File with DeftPDF : Step-by-Step
Step 1: Visit DeftPDF.com and choose Protect from the menu
Step 2: Choose/upload PDF file to protect (encrypt)
Step 3: Chose “More Options” and specify permissions
Step 4: Click the “Encrypt PDF” button. After processing, click download.
Step 5: Save your protected PDF (note SECURED displays in file name when opened)
PDF Escape – Free Password-Only Encryption
PDF Escape is a very powerful, intuitive encryption tool (128-bit). It offers a convenient, web-based tool not requiring download and install of any software. Stronger encryption (256-bit) and advanced tools are available with the paid version.
There is one drawback with PDF Escape. The free version only allows adding a password for encryption, not setting permissions to restricting copying or printing as was the case with DeftPDF.
When considering an encryption tool, it is important to review the features available.
PDF Escape – Ideal free tool for editing PDFs
PDF Escape does excel in another area that is worth mentioning. If you need to add hyperlinks to a PDF or make a PDF fillable with a form field, it is a great option. The menu of options rivals expensive paid options.
Securing Video-Based Digital Media
For video content such as online course lessons or recordings of webinars and workshops, use a hosting provider that offers security settings. If your goal is to sell or monetize your videos, you need to look beyond YouTube.
YouTube – Limited (to nonexistent) Protection
YouTube is a popular platform for sharing video content, but it does not offer a way to secure your videos. There are privacy settings, but they do not offer any real security.
A common (and unfortunate) choice is using unlisted videos. An unlisted video link can easily be shared. Anyone with the link can view it. In fact, there are entire websites dedicated to posting these (unlisted) videos.
Vimeo – Built for Security and Selling
Just a quick glance at the number of options for who can watch your video tells you that this platform is built with privacy (and security) in mind.
Privacy setting are just the beginning. In addition, you can specify where the video can be embedded including limiting to specific domains.
Lastly, Vimeo allows you to choose if your video can be downloaded. This is important as in most cases, your customers will watch the video via the internet and will not need a reason to download and save (and possibly share) a copy of the video.
Tip 2 – Flatten your digital file
Flattening refers to making all the different text and images on the page into one single image. This ensures that if anyone were to bypass the PDF security, they won’t be able to do much with your resource.
In easier to understand terms, flattening means that they won’t be able to copy and paste any of the text or images. One drawback to this technique is that it can diminish the quality of the text and images. It will also render any links you have created inactive.
Step 1: Using Canva, download each page of your resource as a .png (image) file.
Step 2: Create a new design in Canva and upload the page image files from step 1.
Step 3: Add each page image to new design (drag and drop).
Step 4: Download your new design as a PDF.
Step 5: Add links to downloaded PDF using PDF Escape (if needed).
Step 6: Encrypt your PDF with DeftPDF or similar tool (see above step-by-step tutorial).
Tip 3 – Make unauthorized sharing difficult
Think for a moment about how easy it is to copy and paste a link or forward an email. Providing customers with a direct link to access purchased content via email or an active link creates risk for unauthorized sharing.
Before we talk about what you can do to limit sharing, let’s step back and look at things from the customer perspective.
First and foremost, you want customers to have easy (and immediate) access to their purchase. This is the backbone of a positive customer experience with a digital transaction. However, you also need to weigh the (likely) possibility that conveniences you offer (like a download link in an email) will be shared or stolen.
To make sharing more difficult, don’t use easily shareable links such as a Google drive file link. Use an ecommerce tool that creates a specific download link/access token for each purchase and/or put downloads behind a login.
There are many affordable options for selling digital downloads, some as low as $5/month. These shopping cart tools give customers specific download links and a menu of options for controlling access duration and number of downloads.
RD2RD uses Easy Digital Downloads, a WordPress plugin. Here you can see that both the length of time the download link is active as well as number of downloads can be specified.
Tip 4 – Hide your products from search engines
Search engines are designed to find and display content. If you have files uploaded on your website, these will display in search results unless you take specific actions to prevent it.
This topic requires some basic understanding of how a website is indexed and shown in search results pages. But to keep things simple, you want to exclude specific files (or pages) from showing in search results. This is accomplished by using a”noindex” robots meta tag.
If you are using WordPress, popular search engine optimization plugins like Yoast, make it easy to include a robots meta tag to posts, pages and media library items you’ve uploaded.
Below you can see the options for indexing. RD2RD uses The SEO Framework, a WordPress plugin. Choosing “noindex” will tell search engines not to display this post in search results.
In addition to understanding how to exclude content from your website from showing up in search results, there is more you can do to protect your download files. Utilizing an ecommerce tool to sell your digital products offers additional protection.
For example, Easy Digital Downloads, the ecommerce tool used by RD2RD automatically protects download files. This prevents anyone from browsing and accessing these files.
Using a plugin or hosted shopping cart solution for selling digital downloads is very affordable and offers specific advantages. Protection of your download files is one that offers great value.
Tip 5 – Have clear terms and conditions/licensing
If you are selling products or services online, a comprehensive Terms and Conditions agreement is just as important as choosing a payment gateway. However, it’s easy to feel confused by the process.
To simplify this concept, it’s easiest to think of terms and conditions as a contract between you and your customer. When customers browse your site or make a purchase, they must agree to these terms. Having clear terms is important for legal protection as well as building customer trust.
You’ve likely scanned legal terms when making a purchase and felt like you need a law degree to understand the miles long text. Now that you’re in the position of the seller, you may feel intimidated by the thought of writing these or hiring a legal professional to assist.
Start by educating yourself on what key elements should be included in terms and conditions and review the terms for sites to get a feel for how they are organized.
Protecting your digital products does take some effort. However, taking these precautions ensure that you are making it as difficult as possible for your resources to be stolen, shared or dismantled.
Before you upload a product to your store on RD2RD, flatten and secure your digital file. There are powerful, free tools available to encrypt your PDF.
At RD2RD, there are a number of items in place to protect your products from unauthorized sharing.
- The download link customers receive in their purchase receipt expires. It is also limited to only a few uses.
- Customers must login to their account and access prior purchases once link expires.
- Download files are stored in a directory that isn’t searchable and can’t be viewed without access.
Grab the Bonus Checklist!
Confused by all the steps to protect your digital products? Grab this free checklist for a step-by-step summary. Just drop your email below and you’ll receive a copy immediately.