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Make a file read-only but Not Downloadable in Canvas

Make a file read-only but Not Downloadable in Canvas

This was a feature request in the old forums that our faculty were particularly interested in (posted originally by Glen Parker)


It would be helpful if it were possible to make a file visible by students, but for them not to be downloadable. I can see a few use cases for this feature, including a) copyrighted material and b) answers to final exams, etc.


  Comments from Instructure...

October 2015 update from Cosme Salazar


As is often the case, David Lyons is right on the money with how we are thinking about this feature request. Building a feature to "lock down" access to files would give teachers a false sense of security regarding access to their files. For many file types, there is no way to give a student the ability to open a file on a desktop, tablet, or smartphone, without giving them the ability to download (and share that file). Any object shown on a computer can be copied with a screenshot or a picture taken on a camera phone. It is very unlikely we would ever develop this type of feature.


If there are other use cases or workflows that could be used to meet a teacher's need to protect content. Please describe them in the comments.


Thanks for posting, this is a common request I receive from our faculty.

Community Member

This is absolutely crucial for instructors who want to post examples of good work for students to study but not be able to take and represent as their own work.


To have a "view only" option for files is important for many reasons.  There are many times when a faculty person just wants to show an example of a document but they do not want that document to be floating around.

Community Member

I'm voting this up because it seems to be a needed and standard option, but I always caution my instructors that students can easily take a screen shot of anything and save/print/distribute it - this is especially important to keep in mind for things like exam answers you don't want out there.

Community Member

I just wanted to echo some of the comments made here, especially the most recent one by . It's worth noting that this feature idea would not prevent students from saving content, taking screenshots, downloading the content in some way.

In my opinion, it would be really great to have a way to circumvent the File Download dialog box that opens every time you're trying to open a file in Canvas. The icon for the inline preview is not always very intuitive for users, and lots of users have found the "forced" download to be rather annoying. I think this especially makes sense for course documents that may be opened regularly from a Canvas site. For instance, you probably don't want to be prompted to download the syllabus every time you want to reference it.

Community Member

This would be very useful for movie-based classes, too. Canvas allows instructors to stream videos, even whole movies, so long as they're in compliance of 17 US Code 1-110.

However, the students' ability to download them violates the requirement that instructors apply "technological measures that reasonably prevent retention of the [movie] in accessible form by recipients."

Please do add this feature. It would be simple to implement and extremely useful for certain users. Smiley Happy

Community Member

Hi All--

I posted this elsewhere, but it appears that there's a good conversation going on here:

I recently was trying to share an MP4 video file in a course and discovered that making the video viewable also makes it downloadable by students. I learned from a Canvas support tech that there is currently no option to make a file viewable (but not downloadable) to students.

Considering all the options within Canvas to make files viewable in the browser only (like the Google Docs and Crocodoc previews of office files and PDFs) and hosting video internally to the Canvas file system, there should be a clearer division between viewing and downloading files. The reason, of course, is so instructors can share content that they have limited usage licenses for, to protect the intellectual property of the documents and files they share. Teachers should have a viable way within Canvas to ensure that a file they share within their course's "walled garden" is available only to the students enrolled in their course.

(And yes, I know you can just right-click MP4 videos and download them using the browser's tools, but (A) that's not a workflow that's obvious to mainstream users, and (B) disabling the "download this video file now" link sends a subtle message to the user that maybe they shouldn't download it.)

Thanks for considering this addition to Canvas-


Community Member


While not perfect here is what you can do (in HTML mode) when linking your document in a page:

<p style="font-size: 0px;"><a class="auto_open instructure_scribd_file" href=" COURSE NUMBER/files/YOUR FILE NUMBER/download" data-api-endpoint="https://YOUR COURSE NUMBER/files/YOUR FILE NUMBER" data-api-returntype="File">this text does not appear</a></p>

When doing this I like to do a couple of things to help speed up the process, which with some practice can be nearly as fast and easy as creating a normal link.

First, any time I'm editing content in the middle of other content I create an easily recognizable place marker. For instance I generally type (in full editor mode) a line of "m"s or "n"s like so:

, when I switch to HTML mode I know exactly where I need to be.

Second, when making a link like that above I like to first link the document in the page just like any other link would be made. this makes it very simple to get the course and file numbers,

In HTML mode it appears like so:

<p><a id="" class=" instructure_scribd_file instructure_file_link" title="do_not_delete.txt" href="">do_not_delete.txt</a> </p>

when I paste in my code (from the grey box above) I can just move the content from the normal link to the read only link.

Once I've finished pasting the relevant info in, I simply delete the normal link and my row of "m"s and save.

I know this isn't nearly as elegant as the proposed solution, but if you REALLY need a read only file, this does work.

Community Member

Thanks for this info, hensonj​! It's good to know there is a work-around solution. I've also come up with a less HTML-intensive solution which is ALSO not as elegant, but it works! The only caveat is that the FILES area needs to be dragged into the Left Nav and therefore accessible is to students. The following instructions are for making a file open in a new page from the Syllabus:

  1. Upload the file you'd like to use to the Files area.
  2. From the Syllabus page, Select 'Edit Syllabus Description' from the right admin panel
  3. Highlight the text you'd like to link from.
  4. On the right admin panel, select 'Files' from the 'Insert Content into the Page.' Select your course file to link the content.
  5. Highlight the created link and press Command + K (Ctrl+K on a PC)**
  6. Then, here's the tricky part -- you have to manipulate the URL a bit to make it work: After '' in the URL, replace '######/download?wrap=1' with '?preview=######' (i.e. add '?preview=' after '...files/' and delete everything after '/download...'
  7. Set the target as "New Window."
  8. Click OK.
  9. Click Update Syllabus.
  10. From Course Settings --> Navigation, drag "Files" into the Left Hand Navigation so that students can navigate to the file you've posted.
Community Member

Please consider the effect that these workarounds have on usability and accessibility. Considering that (as mentioned above) students can still easily take screenshots, or look in their temporary internet files to save the file, you will only add a minimal amount of protection to the files while potentially making the courses much more difficult to navigate.