Letter to the Editor: Misconceptions about PDF/A

While reading the July 5 article, "E-records solutions evolve as do the demands," we were disappointed at the number of inaccuracies and misstatements as it relates to the PDF/Archive standard. While we are delighted to see Washington Technology focus on the important e-records issue, this article really missed the mark.

We would like to draw your attention to the following misstatements:

First, PDF/A was described as a bare bones and stripped down version of PDF. This is not true. PDF/A is a subset of the PDF specification that defines an archival profile of PDF that is amenable to long-term preservation. The PDF/A specification outlines features that are required, restricted or prohibited. Some examples include:

  • Required: Document level metadata and the use of fonts that can be legally embedded into the document.

  • Prohibited: Embedded files and encryption, having password-protected documents would not be desirable in a long-term archive for obvious reasons.

Second, the article asserted that the U.S. Courts moved to PDF/A because of an issue with PDF. This is not true. The U.S. Courts archives in PDF today. The PDF/A standard was ratified at the end of May by the International Standards Organization and has yet to be implemented.

Third, it is true that National Archives and Records Administration is evaluating formats for its future use, including PDF/A among other formats. But what isn't noted is that the National Archives and Records Administration accepts various electronic formats today, including PDF. The transfer requirements can be found at http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/initia


PDF/A was designed to ensure that electronic files can be retrieved long after the technologies used are abandoned and replaced with newer ones. As representatives of the committee that developed PDF/A, we worked hard and diligently to focus on the appropriate requirements of a long-term file format to go into this standard.

PDF/A was a global effort that included representatives from government organizations, academia and industry. Many national standards bodies were also represented such as Australia (SA), France (AFNOR), Germany (DIN), Japan (JISC), Sweden (SIS), the United Kingdom (BSI) and the United States (ANSI) among many others.

We believe that PDF/A is the archiving format that best preserves important records in both the public and private sectors for the long-term.

John Mancini, president

AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association

Melonie Warfel, director of standards

Adobe Systems Inc.

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