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8 Proven Ways to Protect Your Digital Products From Being Shared

prevent sharing

Last updated on 12 November 2022

Selling digital products isn’t always easy, as you probably already know that they can be shared in so many ways. So how do you protect your digital products?

There are not a lot of ways to stop customers from sharing their links with others because ultimately, there’s usually always a way around it if they try hard enough. But, you can prevent them from doing so with some unique methods.

I’m going to talk to you about the methods to prevent sharing of digital products using our app – Downloadable Digital Assets. This works on any Shopify store, and soon it will be available for any WordPress store.

Reasons why it’s tough to prevent the sharing of digital products

Re-uploading files

Basically, the reason it is easy for the customer to share assets is that the customer can download the files, and then re-upload them on their own transfer services such as Google Drive or similar.

This ultimately bypasses most methods of protection on the store side, unfortunately. Only license keys can help against this, but even then, they can just share their license key, or even hack the software.

Not even license keys work 100% of the time

The main method around this is by selling software with license keys. Even then, the software can be hacked and pirated, just like Adobe, Microsoft, and every software company for decades.

Also, you can’t use license keys on most digital products such as eBooks, music, PDFs, Zip files and more.

Passwords don’t work well

You can add passwords to your PDFs or Zips, but the customers can easily just share the password with others. While overall it can help slow them down from being shared, ultimately it will not stop it.

Conclusion – prevent as much as possible

This is where it gets interesting. Overall, it’s just tough to 100% fully protect yourself from customers sharing digital products. We just need to prevent the customer from sharing them as much as possible, by making it difficult to share or warning them of copyright violation.

Firstly, if you have a Shopify store, install this app:

Install Downloadable Digital Assets onto your Shopify store, it will allow you to have access to all of the below methods to protect your digital downloads from being shared illegally.

downloadable digital assets protection

It’s created by Shopify experts, so they know exactly what a store needs in an app like this.

8 Proven methods to prevent customers from sharing digital products

The Downloadable Digital Assets app has some unique features to help prevent customers from sharing their download URLs. While it is possible for a customer to share their download email, we have some steps to stop them.

1. Only allow users to download from a number of IP addresses

This feature works very well because your customer will never be able to share the download URLs with others if you set the number at 1 because every device has its own unique IP address.

The only thing to note with this is that some customers love to download on their mobile and desktop. It’s usually best to set it at 2 or 3 IP addresses. This still prevents them from sharing the files around!

The only way they could share them is if they download the files, and then re-upload them to their own transfer service. If they do this, you can threaten them with copyright violations.

You can find this feature on the “Settings” page, under the “Limitations for downloads” section.

set an ip limit

Which plan can you get this on?

Professional plan & above

Things to note

There are a couple of things to note with this method, one of which is that they might want to download their files to 2 devices. All devices have a different IP address, even if they are on the same network. You can tell them that, this is against your license and they can only download to 1 device.

Another one is that a lot of internet service providers don’t provide static IP addresses, which means the IP changes often and is never the same. You usually need to pay extra to your service provider to get a static IP address.

So if the customer’s IP changes, they will not be able to download their files again, and they will be asked to contact the customer service of your store. But usually, this isn’t a problem because customers don’t download it twice.

2. Set a download limit for each link

Most of the time customers will download each link an average of 2 times.

Sometimes the download will fail because of their internet, so they get another chance. Sometimes they want the asset on their phone and computer, which adds up to another 2 download attempts. Learn more about the limitations here.

You can do this on the ‘Settings‘ page under the “Limitations for downloads” section.

limitation setting in the app

Which plan can you get this on?

Free plan & above

3. PDF Stamping

Unfortunately, this only works with PDF files, but it really helps prevent customers from sharing PDFs with others.

PDF Stamping will stamp the customer’s name, email and order number onto the PDF pages. Customers wouldn’t want their personal details linked to leaked PDF files, so this prevents them from sharing with others. It also indicates to the store owner which customer has proceeded to share their purchases, allowing you to possibly take legal action.

You may think “but what if the customer just edits the PDF?”. We have something to stop this too! You can lock the PDF file, so it’s permanently secured and uneditable. Even if you are using Adobe Acrobat Reader, you cannot edit the PDF. Their personal details will be stamped on the PDF permanently.

Learn more about setting up PDF Stamping and how to sell PDFs on Shopify.

pdf stamping

PDF Stamp template example

create pdf stamping template

Which plan can you get this on?

You will need the Starter plan to use a single PDF Stamping template.

You will need the Scale plan or above to create unlimited PDF Stamping templates.

4. Set an expiration time on the download links

Setting an expiration time will help in some cases because your customer will only have a set amount of time to download the asset(s). It completely depends on the type of product you are selling and the size of the files, but this will help prevent them from sharing.

You may need to give them a warning if you have a time limitation set so they are aware they need to download it quick.

order expiration settings

Which plan can you get this on?

Starter plan & above

You can always let them know in the download email and in the download box that you are tracking every download IP location, and that you can see who has shared and who hasn’t.

You can let them know that if you recognise distant IP addresses, their downloads will be blocked permanently. You can add this information in the download emails or the download box in the customer accounts/checkout pages.

Learn:

When an order arrives in the app, you will be able to see the IP address of every download attempt on the order pages. So if you see distant IP addresses, you can instantly block the downloads until further verification. Learn how to block their downloads here.

checkout settings
Checkout settings on the app ‘Settings’ page.
thank you page after purchase
Example of the checkout ‘Thank you’ page after purchase.

Which plan can you get this on?

Display links on checkout ‘Thank you’ (order summary) pageStarter plan & above

Customise email templatesProfessional plan & above

Display links in customer accounts order pageProfessional plan & above

6. Selling large files instead of small

Surprisingly, selling large digital files on Shopify can prevent users from sharing. Of course, a user can still download files from the app, and then upload them to their own transfer services, but if the files are too large, they will need to pay for storage or a subscription, preventing them from sharing.

7. Only allow customer account downloads (not email)

When you only allow downloads from the customer accounts, it adds a sense of personality to it. The customer will most likely not want to share their own personal account with others because it has their own details in there and sometimes payment information.

Using the Downloadable Digital Assets app, you can disable the download emails and only allow customers to log into their accounts to download the digital products.

Learn how to do it

It’s really easy to set this up. All you need to do is 2 things:

Which plan can you get this on?

Display links in customer accounts order pageProfessional plan & above

Disable order emails – All plans

customer account downloads

8. Use encryption on your files

Now, this isn’t the best route, because you need to provide a password and the customers can share it easily, but it does prevent users from sharing. It gives them a sense of “I shouldn’t be sharing this” and also adds one more step in the process.

You can add encryption to your digital products, but it depends on what type of product you are selling. PDFs and Zip files allow you to encrypt them.

The good thing is that you can add any file type inside a Zip file, so you are essentially encrypting it.

The bad thing with encryption is that the customer can just share the password if they want.

Encrypting a Zip

The encryption needs to take place before it is uploaded to the app.

How to see if people are sharing digital products with others

You can easily see if someone is sharing downloads with others.

The ‘Order‘ page shows the IP addresses and web browser of every download that has taken place under the ‘Traffic‘ box.

When you see that they have shared the files with others, you can set an order expiration on their order to block them from downloading further. Of course, only if it is against your policy.

order details app

Which plan can you get this on?

Order expirationStarter plan & above

Traffic details – All plans

What can you do in the case of piracy?

1. Contact them and threaten legal proceedings

One of the first things you should do is try to contact the site owner to tell them it violates your copyright. If you can’t find any sort of contact info, you can find more by checking Who.is.

If there is no reply or action taken, then follow to the next step.

2. Where are they hosted? Contact the host

You can find out who is hosting the website by checking whoishostingthis.com. Commonly, you can contact the server company and inform them of the copyright violation, and they will investigate.

Shopify has a great legal team. I’ve had it before where someone stole our digital products, and I caught them selling via Shopify. I quickly submitted a DMCA complaint to Shopify and got them removed within 24 hours.

WooCommerce, BigCommerce and others have similar workflows.

3. Submit a DMCA complaint

You can submit a DMCA complaint directly to DMCA. Follow the instructions here. Just to note, this will incur a cost to use their service.

If you’re looking for a free method, use Google’s DMCA tool. It might just work for you. If you’re interested, you can learn more about what DMCA is here.

4. Consider getting trademarked

A trademark is a very powerful legal standing that any large company around the world, doesn’t want to deal with. If the pirated products are showing on another website or marketplace, you can quickly threaten Trademark violation, and they will very quickly reply to you.

I’ve done this before on a few occasions where people stole our company name. Luckily, we were trademarked, and they quickly got taken down.

Summary

I hope this helps you fight against customers sharing your digital products. Overall, it’s not easy to stop someone from sharing download links with others. There’s always a way around it, unfortunately, and it’s something we have to live with selling digital downloads. But if we can prevent it, we will do as much as possible.

If you have any suggestions for methods to prevent the sharing of files, please let us know.

If you find your customers are having any issues with their downloads, you can show them this download issue troubleshooting guide.

Remember to also check our guide on avoiding these mistakes when selling digital products.

FAQ

How to protect digital downloads?

It’s hard to protect digital downloads from being shared, but we have created features to prevent your customers from sharing your digital products. Learn more about the best ways to prevent file sharing here.

How can I prevent PDF sharing?

We have the answer – PDF Stamping. Following this method, you will learn how to stamp your customer’s personal details on the PDF pages after purchase. This will prevent them from sharing with anyone publicly because they will easily get caught.

If you have a Shopify store, install the Downloadable Digital Assets app to use PDF stamping when selling your PDFs.

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