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We commonly understand the term ‘Bootlegging’ as producing, distributing, or selling illegally or without permission. The item may be anything, including a document.

The reason someone would use and perhaps update a document in their possession (not necessarily the current version) might be simply that the current version is too difficult to obtain. In some cases, the repercussion from such practice can be devastating. Someone could make changes to a document and, if they do not record the changes on the original and have the changes reviewed and approved, construction could proceed and lead to an inferior or unsafe installation. For example, if someone reviewed and made design changes on a drawing that the Document Controller then logged as ‘Final’ but the construction followed a ‘bootlegged’ copy of the original drawing specifications, a serious and life-threatening accident could result. The ‘bootlegged’ document could be the source of major problems later on.

In a sense, no system can always prevent people from accessing a copy of a document, changing it and using it without first ensuring that it was the final version. Systems that use QR code imprinting on a document can help but this is not a foolproof solution. Clear processes around the use of controlled documents must be in place and those who need access to the controlled documents must follow the controls upon accessing it. If someone checks a document out of an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), we know who checked it out but we do not always know if the document (or more correctly, a copy if it) was changed before the ‘original’ document was checked back into the EDMS.

Tracking documents from vendors can be tedious and error-prone if the vendors’ document reference is different from that of the project owner. Difficulties finding information in a specific document that is now included within a new document may lead one to keep a copy of the original document. There are many reasons why some individuals use a ‘bootlegged’ copy of a document and it often falls on the shoulders of the experienced Document Control Specialist to ensure all project document users adhere to standards. This is time consuming and Document Controllers need efficient tools that make their work easier to do, giving them the time they need to not only ensure their users follow the ‘rules’ but to create, update and manage the ‘rules’ that make every project team member’s job easier.

Are bootlegged documents a problem for you? If so, how have they affected you as a Document Controller and how have they affected your projects? How do you ensure your project document users have access to the status of the documents they use? We can ask a lot of questions about this problem however quick and easy access to finding out if a document is current might be part of the reason people take a copy of them in the first place.