Understanding reader extensions licensing

We get many questions about reader extensions. That’s not surprising really because there are numerous ways to use reader extensions in an enterprise capacity as well as in a work group or consumer type of way. We also get many questions about the aspects of licensing reader extensions based on the fact that reader extended forms can be created from our Acrobat family of products as well as our LiveCycle family of products. The licensing programs for Acrobat and LiveCycle are designed to serve different uses and organizational needs. They scale from desktop use to enterprise levels

Before we go too much further though, let me tell you what a reader extended document is.

The reader extensions capability digitally signs a PDF form or document to enable certain features in the free Reader product on a per-file basis. These are features otherwise found in the full Acrobat product.  Extending features in a PDF document allows the content creator to offer more advanced capabilities to end users with free Reader without requiring them to purchase the full Acrobat product.  Examples of the features which are enabled by reader extensions include commenting, digital signatures, and saving forms and data offline.  We usually see customers take advantage of this technology to capture data in a form using reader extensions based on the ability for someone to fill out a form inside of the free Reader product, save it to their desktop, and then email it to the person needing this information.

LiveCycle and Reader Extended Forms:

Here’s an example of a reader extended form:  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040.pdf.  This example was created using LiveCycle Enterprise Suite. LiveCycle is a server based product for automating form and document processing in enterprise organizations. The use of reader extensions in LiveCycle is targeted for large distribution use cases.  Other services available in LiveCycle can be used to generate PDF documents and forms and automate their processing in conjunction with other enterprise systems. LiveCycle’s reader extensions capabilities are licensed on a per-document (or form) or a per-recipient basis. Its usage can scale to extract information from an unlimited number of documents or an unlimited number of recipients.   A LiveCycle customer can purchase more document or recipient licenses as their business needs require.   For example, a state that wants to develop a single tax form to collect information from its 2 million citizens might purchase a per-document license for their form.  However, a government department of 6,000 planning to develop several human resources forms might be better served with per-recipient licenses.

Acrobat and Reader Extended Forms:

As I mentioned earlier, you can also create a reader extended form by using Acrobat.  Acrobat is a desktop product for producing and working with PDF documents on an individual basis.  The reader extension capabilities in Acrobat are intended for small scale distributions.    Acrobat provides capabilities to extract data into spreadsheets for further processing.

The use of reader extension features in Acrobat is governed by the end user license agreement (EULA). Please see section 16.8.3 of the Acrobat  EULA  for the official description of  the proper use of Acrobat’s reader extension capabilities. Essentially it says, a licensee of Acrobat may either distribute a particular PDF form or document to an unlimited number of unique recipients provided they extract data from no more than 500 recipients OR extract data an unlimited number of times from no more than 500 recipients.  Let’s look at an example. A government department is creating a conference with a maximum capacity of 400 attendees. They develop a form for conference registration and publish it to their public website.  When the forms are received they extract the data from the first 400 forms they receive in order to fill up their conference seats. In this case, an Acrobat license is appropriate.

In another example, a company of 350 employees creates a timesheet form that their employees complete each week.   The company can extract the data from this form an unlimited number of times.  In this case, an Acrobat license is appropriate.

In our last example, a company posts a form to a public website hoping to gather data from as many respondents as possible, likely more than 500 respondents.  In this case, a LiveCycle license is appropriate as an Acrobat license cannot be used to gather data from more than 500 respondents.

Licensing Examples

Use Case

Appropriate Software License

Tax forms in a state with a population of 2 million LiveCycle Reader Extensions per-document
Conference Registration for a conference of 400 participants Acrobat
Timesheet form for a company of 350 Acrobat
Several human resource forms for a government department of 6,000 LiveCycle Reader Extensions per-recipient


Adobe is committed to helping our customers understand our products and licensing strategy.  If you have questions about your use of Reader Extensions, please contact PublicSector@adobe.com for further assistance.

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8 Responses to Understanding reader extensions licensing

  1. Nellie van Donkersgoed says:

    Thank you. Clear explanation.

  2. idontspeakmonkey says:

    Thank you for this article. It helps…. but…….

    If I understand your examples. It seems your main metric on the Acrobat side is “data extracted from the form”. Which I take to mean digitally extracted or consumed, as opposed to printed out and filed away. So in that example I could send a single version of a form to 100,000 readers as long as I don’t extract data from more than 500 for any given document. That seems more or less clear.

    I guess my main use case is closer to the conference registration, but I with an automated process via LC instead of single user of Acrobat.

    On the LC side, it seems if I use PDF Generator for the above use case instead of a single user of Acrobat, then do I still have the same rules, or do I need reader extension licenses regardless, and if so how many ? 100,000 ? or only the number that I expect to receive back and “extract digital data” from (500) ? And is this measured on a per document basis or over a certain time frame ?

    How do license requirements change (if at all), if I send out another 100,000 documents, let’s say 4 times each month (a different document each week) ?

    How do license requirements change (if at all), if I send out the same qty of documents, but each document is unique and each receiver is unique. So for example 400,000 unique documents sent to 400,000 unique readers, at a rate of 100,000 per week, but I still only expect to “digitally extract” data from less than 500 forms a month.

    Again, think of a highly customized mass mailing for an event registration.

    Finally, what about use cases where reader extensions are needed, but never with data to be extracted. For example enabling measurements and cross sections on 3DPDF ?


  3. Don Andrews says:

    Can I use Reader-Extended a form in Acrobat and then distribute that form in the Managed Review and Approval solution accelerator?

    • Jeff Stanier says:


      MRA provides the use of the rest of the LiveCycle platform as long as it’s in conjunction with the Managed Review and Approval use case. So you’d be able to reader extend with LiveCycle in this case and not need Acrobat. If you did start in Acrobat you would still have to respect the 500 limit.

  4. Anders Mullo says:

    Really helpful information. But I feel a clarifiation question is needed.
    Can I create and publish say 750 forms that are filable and saveable and publish them on a municipalities with 30.000 inhabitants website IF they only get sent in in paper form, not digitally/via email?

    Does information extraction only refer to extracting data digitally?

  5. Sven Erdtmann says:

    Thanks for the article.
    Adobe Reader Extension licensing is not easy as i realize.
    What is the licensing need for the following scenario:
    - 1 unique document
    - approx 100 user send this one form to external customers
    - approx 500 customers return the filles form
    - the form creating company want’s no backend software be running

    What is the effective licensing need?

    Thanks for your feedback. :-)