PDF/A FAQs

  • Why does the judiciary need to move to PDF/A for its CM/ECF documents?
    To reduce security risks and to improve the ability to archive those documents. Since its inception in 1995, CM/ECF has required that documents be filed in PDF format. Over the years, PDF has had many features added to it, and some of those features have created security risks. Formal security audits have pointed out the vulnerability. PDF/A eliminates those security risks and also enhances the ability to archive with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • When will the judiciary require that all documents filed in CM/ECF be in PDF/A format?
    Currently, no deadline has been set. This will be a topic for discussion in the court community over the coming months. Spring 2012 may be a reasonable target date, and courts should begin planning the transition now. Under current plans, each court will decide when it is ready to enforce the requirement.
  • How does a court allow or require that CM/ECF documents be in PDF/A format?
    Currently, no deadline has been set. This will be a topic for discussion in the court community over the coming months. Spring 2012 may be a reasonable target date, and courts should begin planning the transition now. Under current plans, each court will decide when it is ready to enforce the requirement.
  • How will CM/ECF handle PDF/A exceptions?
    The exception mechanism was included in CM/ECF to handle difficult problems that cannot be solved through other reasonable approaches. The exception approach lets in PDF files that could contain security risks and that don't meet the ideal NARA archival standard, and therefore it should be employed only when truly needed.
  • What releases of CM/ECF have the features needed for handling PDF/A documents?
    All current versions of CM/ECF will accept PDF/A filings. Appellate 5.0 (available 11/2011), Bankruptcy 5.0 (available early 2012), and District 5.0 (released 09/2010) incorporate all the PDF/A features, such as the ability to require PDF/A filings, and the production of CM/ECF forms, proposed orders, and other documents in PDF/A.
  • What does an attorney or court user need to do to create PDF/A documents?
    More than ninety commercial products, including word processors, can create PDF/A documents. In most cases, users simply need to update the settings in those products to make PDF/A the default format. A filer who now uses software that does not support PDF/A will need to acquire a product that does; a free word processor can be downloaded from OpenOffice.org.
  • How are hyperlinks in documents affected by the PDF/A requirement?
    Many PDF writers create PDF/A documents with active (“clickable”) links. Other PDF writers produce PDF/A documents with active links only if the links are unmasked (i.e., the link is a full URL and not a shorthand literal that represents the full URL). Furthermore, different programs that convert PDF documents to PDF/A handle hyperlinks differently.
  • Are there special considerations for using active links in PDF/A documents?
    f Version 9 of Adobe Reader or Acrobat is being used to display a PDF/A document, links will not work if the default “PDF/A View Mode” is in effect. A user who wants to use the hyperlinks must disable “PDF/A View Mode. Beginning with Version 10.1 of the Adobe products, disabling PDF/A View Mode is unnecessary; hyperlinks will remain active in PDF/A View Mode.
  • Which PDF/A format should filers use: 1a or 1b?
    Both are acceptable for CM/ECF. PDF/A-1a requires structure in a document and is best to use for electronic documents. PDF/A-1b does not require structure in a document and is best to use for scanned documents or documents where the structure is unknown. For more information on the structure of the document, please see this site:
  • How is the use of annotations affected by the PDF/A requirement?
    PDF/A documents may be annotated using the CM/ECF “sticky notes” feature and still be compliant. Generally, other annotation tools would also maintain PDF/A compliance.

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