Skip to Main Content

eBooks and Digital Resources: eReaders and Digital Rights Management (DRM)

A guide to deciphering access of digital resources at ECU

Reading digital files

With digital files and digital rights management (DRM) that has been applied you may need to use specific software to open or use these ebooks. 

Different files will need different programs to open them and ebooks will come in a few different file types depending on the DRM that has been applied and the functionality that various different file types and platforms will have. 

If you are just getting started with ebooks and digital resources the two programs that are recommended to install are:

This will let you open almost all ebooks that are available through our library. 

Here we have a brief overview of the file types that you will encounter as well as the programs that you will need to read them

File types

File types will determine how an ebook or document is displayed and what program it will open in. There's a couple of things you want to make a note of:

What format is the document in - This will let you know how you will be able to interact with the document. Most common two types are PDF and EPUB. A document may also come in HTML which is readable on your browser (like a webpage). See Read Online for the functionality of this option.

What file extension or file type does the document have - This will determine what program you need to open it. 

Here we'll go over some of the features of various file types you will encounter when downloading and accessing an ebook.

The Portable Document Format (PDF) file type will be the most common type amongst online articles, printed pages, and DRM free ebook titles. PDFs are designed to allow a document to be viewed without any change in the formatting and sizing of the page while still allowing you to highlight or copy text and images.

PDF functions:

  • Can be opened using most modern internet browsers
  • Keeps formatting of text and images in intended locations
  • Transferrable between devices. 
  • Text and images can be copied and interacted with. PDF readers will allow annotation and highlighting of text. 

PDF issues:

  • Text size cannot be altered. Zoom to increase page size if needed
  • Content in PDFs cannot be edited without special software.

PDFs will be files with the extension .pdf at the end of the file name. 

They can be opened in most modern browsers but there are dedicated PDF readers that will also provide tools to highlight and add notes to a PDF. The primary recommended reader for PDFs is Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Electronic Publication (EPUB) files are designed to be used by websites and e-readers. The text is resizable and can be adjusted to fit various screen sizes without changing the font size. Formatting is not maintained due to this feature.

EPUB functions

  • Resize text size without needing to zoom into the page
  • Text will reformat to fit on the screen size of the reader
  • Usable with handheld ebook readers and tablets (not Kindle)

EPUB issues

  • Requires programs that can read EPUB files
  • Most ebooks will have DRM attached
  • Book may have formatting issues 

EPUB files will come with .epub in the file name. 

Not all programs can open EPUBs. You can open EPUBs in ebook reading software such as Adobe Digital Editions. 

The Adobe Content Sever Message (ACSM) file is a common form that DRM controlled ebooks come in no matter if it is a PDF or EPUB format. This file type is a way for the distributor to make sure your file, the due date, and the permission to access the copy are properly communicated to your ebook reader.

ACSM files will have .acsm in the file name:


All ACSM files will require you to download and sign up to Adobe Digital Editions

ACSM files do not have the book contents in it but rather will give Adobe Digital Editions the information to download the book for you as well as any information about loan time, borrowing library, and the ability to return the book.

eResource readers and programs

Due to the range of DRM on various file types you will need specific programs to read the various file types that are associated with digital resources. Here are some of the common programs that can be used for the ebooks available through our Library. 

Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) will be one of the main programs needed to read ebooks that you access from ECU. eBook distribution, copy protection, borrowing duration, and digital returns is all controlled by ADE with information that is provided through the ACSM file that you downloaded. 

Installing and Set up:

To use ADE you will need to sign up for an account:

And download the application to your device. It is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android:

There will be a Getting Started manual available in ADE once installed. 

Opening your book

When registered and logged in to the application open the .acsm file and this will begin the download of the book.

Depending on if you downloaded a PDF or EPUB copy of the book Adobe Digital Editions will get you that version from the database. 

When you have downloaded your book it will appear in your Bookshelf: 

This will include information on when you borrowed it and how many days/hours you have left with it. 

When you're done you can also return the book from your bookshelf by right-clicking on the book and selecting Return Borrowed Item

or just wait for the borrowing period to expire. 

PDFs are readable by a lot of common programs already installed on most devices. Usually you won't need a special program to open PDFs as they can be opened with a web browser or document application.

There are dedicated PDF readers that will give you more functionality such as giving you the ability to annotate and highlight the PDF or fill in interactive PDF forms. You also will need a PDF reader if you want to use Australian Standards or any PDF that has been copy protected. 

 Here are some programs that you can use to read PDF files:

Internet Browsers

Most modern browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari will be able to open PDFs for viewing. 

Use for non-protected PDF files. 

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Free PDF reader compatible with all .pdf files. Supports third party DRM programs such as FileOpen. 

Includes tools to add notes, highlighting and comments to the PDF. 


Download Adobe Acrobat Reader here:

Make sure to uncheck the add-ons offered from Adobe. The add-ons are not recommended. 

Instructions on how to install with images available here:

Foxit Reader

Free PDF reader that allows you to annotate PDFs. Has account settings to share documents across multiple devices. 

Get Foxit here:

FileOpen is a way that PDF readers can manage DRM. FileOpen is a program that needs to be installed and enabled alongside your PDF reader to allow DRM enabled PDFs to be readable.

If you are accessing Australian Standards you will need to install FileOpen.  FileOpen is not compatible with all PDF readers. It will not work with your internet browsers or any PDF reader that does not allow third party programs.

Adobe Acrobat Reader is the recommended PDF reader if using files with FileOpen DRM.

For a guide to using FileOpen see the Techstreet Tip Sheet (p. 3) for installation instructions and troubleshooting: