As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, the federal courts will be requiring all electronic filers to move to the PDF/A standard for ECF filings. The Western District of Pennsylvania announced that it is beginning its transition to this format now, and all filings starting on January 1, 2012 must be in the PDF/A standard (link to Court’s PDF announcement).
The PDF/A format should be a longer lasting file format that will allow attorneys and the public to access these records well into the future. The PDF/A standard requires that the files be self-contained and not refer to use any information outside of the file itself. So, all the fonts and other information will be embedded inside the file. There are two types of PDF/A formats—the PDF/A-1a and PDF/A-1b formats. The “a” format requires strict tagging of information, while the “b” format is less stringent. As a practical matter, one will likely need the original source file (for example, the original Microsoft Word file) to create a PDF/A-1a file. This will make it more difficult to convert standard PDF files into PDF/A-1a files. On the other hand, because the PDF/A-1b format is more forgiving, and it should be possible to convert standard PDF files into this format. It appears that the federal courts will accept either PDF/A format.
There are a variety of websites offering advice and tutorials to help ease the transition to the PDF/A format. The Adobe Acrobat for Legal Professionals website recently posted a tutorial on using the save as feature in Acrobat 9 and X to create or convert files into the PDF/A format. It also hosted a webcast on the topic that can be viewed here.
Federal court practitioner are now well-familiar with the CM/ECF, which allows parties to file documents in a PDF format on-line rather than hand-filing them with the Clerk of Court. In an effort to improve its archiving and preservation of its records and to address concerns over new features that have been incorporated into the PDF format, federal courts will require filers to submit documents in the PDF/A format. The courts have not all set a timeline for implementing these changes, but the Western District of Pennsylvania will require all uploads to be in this format after January 1, 2012.
PDF/A is an International Standards Organization (ISO) approved version of the popular Adobe PDF format designed for archival purposes. It is a self-contained file, which means that it does not rely on external media players or hyperlinks outside of the documents. In addition, it embeds all of the fonts used in the document inside the file, so the recipient need not have any of the fonts installed on his or her computer. It also prevents security measures of any kind (such as passwords). It appears that the federal courts will be using the minimal PDF/A-1b “flavor” of PDF/A, rather than the full PDF/A-1a “flavor,” which is more exacting.
As the PDF format has evolved, it has incorporated some new features that raised concerns, such as the ability to monitor when a document is read and the ability to incorporate active software inside the file. In theory, by moving to the PDF/A format, electronically-filed documents will be more accessible in the future and less dependent on technologies or features that may become unsupported.
Federal courts currently will accept PDF/A files, but do not yet require them. As practitioners are preparing for the transition to only PDF/A files, they should be aware of a number of changes that will result from this shift:
Because all of the fonts will be embedded into the file, file sizes will be larger. In addition, some specialized fonts will not allow programs to embed them in the PDF/A file or require an additional license to do so. Use of these fonts will be problematic and may have to be avoided.
Hyperlinking to webpages, judicial decisions, and other hypermedia is not possible because the file must be self-contained. Content rich briefs and exhibits will be more difficult to create, and, in particular, one will have to be careful in creating exhibits that contain these items (such as copies of webpages or electronically-downloaded caselaw). While some courts may allow exceptions to this limitation, one should not count on regularly being able to obtain these.
Passwords and other security features are not permitted. The purpose of switching to PDF/A is to make the files as accessible as possible for as long as possible. Passwords and other security measures interfere with that goal.
PDF/A requires the presence of certain meta-data to verify conformance with the standard. For firms with systems that automatically strip meta-data, care will have to be taken so as not to render PDF/A files non-conforming in the process.