Let's say I've legally purchased a copy of Best Book Ever.pdf, and the item is copyrighted and I'm not allowed to publish it. Can I encrypt it and store it online on an open server without telling anyone the password? If yes, can I circumvent the "no publishing" restriction by simply setting a weak password and uploading it online, such that anyone can download and crack the password?

To clarify:

  1. The file is hosted on a public server. Everyone knows it's there and what it is.
  2. The file is encrypted with an unknown but very weak password
  3. Anyone who downloads the file and cracks the password is doing so illegally without my consent. I simply don't report most cases.
  4. Without the password, the file is just another blob of random data
  5. If someone reports me for copyright infringement, I can say that they stole my file without my consent, as it was encrypted (2).

Question: Can I use point 5 to invalidate the evidence?

  • 3
    Intent matters. Is it your intent in doing so that other people should have access to the copyrighted content? Feb 12, 2021 at 15:12
  • @DavidSiegel Yeah "publish" is the right word. Feb 13, 2021 at 1:45
  • If they don't know what it is, why would people download it?
    – user253751
    Feb 15, 2021 at 16:44
  • @user253751 This is to circumvent copyright claims. I can tell people that the file is Best Book Ever.pdf but not tell anyone the password, which is weak enough to be cracked in seconds. They know what the item is, and don't need to know the password to decrypt it since the password can be easily cracked. Feb 16, 2021 at 7:36
  • @JohnZhau well they won't sue you if they don't notice the violation, but if they don't notice, other people don't notice either.
    – user253751
    Feb 16, 2021 at 8:55

1 Answer 1


You can't copy the book in any way shape or form without permission, that is what copyright protection means. You can't convert if from one format to another, you can't OCR it to a PDF or image-scan a print book into a big picture file. There is a gray tolerance or license area where you may have permission to install multiple copies on a personal device, but there is no exception that says "you can freely distribute a copy to the public if you change it in such-and-such way". Making an unreadable copy that can be accessed by the world is not allows: the fact of making a file unreadable does not negate the protections of copyright law.

There is a limited workaround in classroom settings, where instructors may make a part of a work available to enrolled students in the class, which involves an interaction between fair use and statutory library copying privileges, which observationally is a large escape hatch that has not been firmly slammed shut by the courts, where access to works so distributed is supposed to be strictly limited – it stands in for putting a physical copy "on reserve" which students can check out for a short period to make their own copies. That is not what you are describing.

You are liable for infringement that results from your posting of the work, so the main question is whether you engaged in willful infringement, which makes you subject to really big statutory damages (up to $150,000), What you describe (using weak encryption e.g. 8 bit encryption or '123' as the password) will almost certainly be found to be willful infringement. The more important question is whether you intended to put it where others could find it. For instance, if you put a link to it on your home page under "free books" then that was plainly an attempt to distribute.

is will

  • If I do put the encrypted copy in public storage without telling anyone the key though, whoever wants to sue me would have to crack my encryption. Wouldn't that cracking be illegal (saying I didn't want anyone to get the book by cracking it), and thus illegal, making the evidence invalid? Feb 13, 2021 at 1:49
  • 1
    @JohnZhau: I'm not aware that cracking encryption is illegal. Is there a specific law you think it would violate? Feb 13, 2021 at 2:54
  • 2
    That sounds suspect to me. (Speculation follows) The FBI might have had technical difficulties unlocking a phone against the owner's wishes, but if they were able to work around that, I bet they could get a warrant to make it legal. (And the CIA probably doesn't care about the legality.) In your case, cracking a password could fall under the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA, 17 USC 1201 (a)(1)(A), but that assumes the password was supposed to prevent access to the work in the first place and wasn't intended to be brute-forced.
    – David Z
    Feb 13, 2021 at 7:09
  • 1
    You can't convert if from one format to another, you can't OCR it to a PDF or image-scan a print book into a big picture file. - Depends on jurisdiction, but in the US this is false. This is known as format shifting, and covers things like being able to rip cds for playing on your phone or computer. Note that the law is far more interested in things like distribution, not necessarily the act of creating a copy itself. Feb 15, 2021 at 0:40
  • 1
    "is will".....?
    – user253751
    Feb 15, 2021 at 16:45

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