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This page last revised: 03 Oct 2017 14:18:56 -0500 .

How can I create a Word document that cannot be copied or modified?

Rule number 1 - If they can read it, they can copy it.
Rule number 2 - If they can copy it, they can modify it.
All you can do is make it harder.

 

The best way to distribute something you don't want modified is as a protected pdf. I think you will need Adobe for this. (The above rules still apply.) A Word document, even protected, is going to have metadata in it and is designed for editing. A pdf file is designed for reading.

Any protection method will only keep honest (or lazy) people from copying or modifying your document.

Rule 1 explained. If they can see it they can copy it.

Having access to a printer and scanner a document can be printed, scanned, put through OCR and reproduced. It will take some tweaking. Without a printer, a person can take a screenshot. If they only have a paper copy, they can make a photocopy, or, if need be, they can take out a paper and pencil and write it down. With only a paper copy in a secure room, they can memorize it and reproduce it elsewhere.

It may be hard, but it is not impossible. The best solution is to give the document only to people you trust.

Rule 2 explained. If they can copy it, they can edit it.

This is essentially a corollary. If it is copied, it can be scanned with OCR or retyped. Then it can be edited.

Nevertheless, most of the time, it is of no use and takes up valuable screen space. So, most people click the close button to get rid of it. Next time they click on a hyperlink in a word document (such as the page number in a Table of Contents) - even though not a link to a web page - the web toolbar pops up again. And unlike the office assistant - it doesn't give up! As long as you can see "Web" in the list of available toolbars, you'll get to see this fellow whenever the folks at Microsoft thought it would be handy.

OK - So if they really want to do it, I can't stop them. What tools do I have in Word to make it harder?

All versions of Word beginning with Word 97:

You can protect the document for forms. Even though it is not a form and has no form fields you can apply protection for forms and give it a password. For most users this means that they cannot select any text so they can't copy and paste.

If someone knows what they are doing, this protection can be broken in less than 90 seconds. No, I'm not going to tell you how. That is an exercise left for the student.

Hint: I learned how to do this on the Internet. Our courts publish mandatory forms for lawyers to use. They are poorly designed so they are hard to use but they are password protected forms. I learned how to do this so I could make the forms easy for me to use, not to change the content of the form. It took some searching but the method is out there.

Word 2003 and later

There are various forms of protection including password protection from opening to allowing editing only on parts. All of these are subject to Rules 1 and 2. I may write more about these later.

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