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Community Champion

Restricting file downloads

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Is there a way to restrict file downloads such that the file is only viewable in a module and that students are not prompted/allowed to download to their local machine? All I can find is How do I restrict files and folders to students in Canvas? and that is not quite what we are looking to do.

Thank you,


1 Solution
Community Champion

If you are a Google Drive user you can do this in Drive and then use those links to populate module URLs items or use them wherever you'd like in Canvas.

See "Prevent your file from being downloaded, printed, or copied"

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Community Champion


I remembered a workaround that was in the old community which I was finally able to find! However, it only works in a place where HTML can be edited (content page, syllabus, etc.) so unfortunately this workaround won't work for linking a file directly in a module. However, you could link the content page into the module. Here is the text below so it can be here in the new community rather than having a link to a cached link to the old community.

Hello all, I have seen a work around for this, so I am adding it here. You will need to edit the file html.


The steps:

  1. Go to Files and choose the option to lock the file unless you link to it.
  2. Go place the link to the file in your Canvas page, syllabus, or whatever it is you are editing.
  3. Switch views on the Rich Text Editor so that you are looking at the HTML code.
  4. Find the code for the link to the file. It will look something like this: <a id="" class=" instructure_scribd_file instructure_file_link" title="Davidson1955_Wood_Staining_Fungi_of_Spruce.pdf" href="">Davidson1955_Wood_Staining_Fungi_of_Spruce.pdf</a>
  5. Remove the word download from the link in the href
  6. Replace the text  instructure_file_link with the text scribd_file_preview_link
  7. Click "Save Changes"


The steps:

  1. Upload your video in Files and choose the option to lock the file unless you link to it.
  2. Place a link to the file in a Canvas page to which you will direct your students.
  3. After the video file has uploaded to the Canvas page and you have saved you should see both a link to the file and a thumbnail copy of the file. 
  4. Under Settings switch to Student View. Return to the Canvas page upon which you have loaded the link and click the link. If you have done things correctly, the video should not open and you should be taken to a screen that tells you that the file/video is unavailable.
  5. Return to the Canvas page while still in Student View. Now click on the thumbnail version of the video. The video should open to a slightly large screen within the Canvas page. Be patient, as sometimes it takes a while for the video to load. It may be best to wait 5 minutes prior to testing.
  6. Return to Instructor View and place a note on the page directing students to click on the thumbnail as the direct link is locked. Students will only be able to view the video within the Canvas page upon which it is loaded and students will be prevented form downloading it.

I tested a pdf file and was able to get it to work. I can't speak to the section for doing this with videos. Here are some screenshots.  Notice that doing this will make it possible for the file to be previewed 2x on the same page which isn't aesthetically pleasing but it does prevent downloading.

Here's what the link to the pdf file looks in a content page:

2015-08-12 10.16.56 am.png

Here is the page with both links clicked showing a preview of the same file 2x but preventing download

2015-08-12 10.17.18 am.png

Also, I can't speak to how this would work in the mobile apps.  My guess is that the student might still be able to download the file via the app.   You might want to go vote for this feature request: 

Excellent, thank you for the information and the feature request link.


I extended the instructions a bit. First, I added the following to my custom CSS file:

span.nodownload span a img {


Then in the HTML editor for the content page, I wrapped my link in this HTML:

<span class="nodownload"> ... </span>

The CSS is necessary to eliminate the link that appears as an icon to preview the page. With the icon there, people  may click the text link, get a preview, then click the icon, and get a second preview on the same page. By adding the class "nodownload" it also makes it unlikely that this CSS will affect anything elsewhere in Canvas.

The rest is following the instructions listed previously for PPTs and DOCs (including PDFs):

  • Delete "download" from the HREF
  • Replace "instructure_file_link" with "scribd_file_preview_link"
Community Participant

Hello David,

I've gotten as far as getting a pdf preview to appear in the RTF box within a Canvas page without the download link, but could you elaborate a bit on where you added your first line of instructions to your custom CSS file and where to place your second line in the html? I just need to be able to eliminate the icon link but I'm not sure where to add your extra instructions, thanks!

Community Participant

Also David,

I'm pretty new at html coding so bear with me. Is there a command that could be added to the instructions which would "auto click" the scribd file preview link to automatically open the preview window when the content page is clicked? Would this also possibly eliminate the chance of the title link being right-clicked to go to a download link? I don't know, I'm just speculating. I know there isn't a 100% foolproof method of preventing a student from downloading a document, but this could make it a bit difficult, at least.

 @rulven ​, while I agree that this isn't a foolproof way of restricting the download capability, there is indeed a super-simple way to set the file for auto preview. Please refer to How do I set the auto-open for inline preview for Files using the Rich Content Editor?


We tried this (editing the HTML) workaround with a PPT and it worked as illustrated - as long as the user does not right-click on the link to open in a new browser window. We found that right-clicking and opening in a new window allows access to the PPT. 

Community Champion

If you are a Google Drive user you can do this in Drive and then use those links to populate module URLs items or use them wherever you'd like in Canvas.

See "Prevent your file from being downloaded, printed, or copied"

Community Champion

Brilliant idea - we are not a Google institution, but many faculty do use personal accounts. Thank you.

I have a client that is adamant about preventing students from downloading or sharing his Powerpoints. I originally went the Google Docs route. Yes, you can tell Google Docs to remove the download link, and that works just fine. But there are still two ways to share the Powerpoint. Since the file must be available to anyone with the link, opening the file in a new window makes it easy to copy the URL and send it to others. The other way is that under the three dot menu in the Google viewer, there is an option to embed the item using an iframe. As far as I know there is no way to turn this option off. These options weren't acceptable to my client.

So even though modifying the HTML to display the Box preview to the file in Canvas without a download link is a real PITA, it removes any obvious ways to download the content (though a knowledgeable person can still access the download by locking the link in the page source).

Community Champion

Thanks for sharing the CSS based workaround, that definitely would be a more secure way to limit this.

Of course, if I really wanted the file (as you mentioned) it's just a right click away in the page source Smiley Wink. I think it is important the author's (teachers) of the files in the course understand this. If they really don't want the files being copied or downloaded they shouldn't put it on the Internet or Canvas (period).

Community Champion

If I have control of the PC I am on, I can install Jing & either take stills or video screen captures (including System audio) of documents or videos.  Or, take out my phone and take pictures of whatever is on the screen.  If it is on the screen, I can get a copy of it.

Community Contributor


As Chris pointed out Google Drive is a possible solution, especially if your school has a Google Apps domain.  

For a step-by-step guide see Google Drive in Canvas - restricting files to read-only. The guide explains how to set up a shared folder based on a Gmail contact group of your students. 

Joe Fahs (2-3-17)

New Member

For those with access to VoiceThread - one of our University's Instructional Design experts shared how it allows this quite easily.

Essentially, you

  1. "Create" a new VoiceThread.
  2. "Upload" the PowerPoint.
  3. Remove all checkmarks in boxes related to sharing/editing/downloading options.
  4. Hover your cursor over the VoiceThread upon it's creation, selecting "Share."
  5. Identify the person/group/class you'd like to share it with, and then limit their access to the VoiceThread.
  6. "Share" it with them.
  7. View the updated options for who can do what with the VoiceThread, adjusting again as needed.
  8. You're set to publish a VoiceThread link in whatever module you need.

*Note, this assumes you've enabled VoiceThread in "Settings" --> "Navigation" (+ "Save") first.

Community Champion

Hi all. If you have Office365 and OneDrive for Business it works rather fine without the need for a workaround (I believe)

Have a look at my response with PICTURES :O)  to  @bergric ‌ and his question here - 

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