Unlocking the universal translator: over 600 Star Trek books go DRM free

Unlocking the universal translator: over 600 Star Trek books go DRM free

Star Trek was a TV series.

I say “was” because it became so much more.

There was a coordinated effort to keep Star Trek on the air after the second season, which was successful…even if the uneven quality of the result made “third season” a geek slang term for something that wasn’t very good (“That lunch was really third season”).

Then there was an animated series with many of the original cast returning to voice their roles. There were movies, games, comic books, role-playing games, and, of course, novels.

The novels are important, and were important to other fandoms which followed.

It’s worth noting first that Star Trek was always connected with books. The series had actively sought science fiction authors (Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson…) to contribute scripts. It was seen as unusually cerebral television…perhaps even literary.

While there had been tie-in novels and novelizations before (including an original Star Trek novel for “juveniles” written by Mack Reynolds called Mission to Horatius), James Blish’s Spock Must Die! published in 1970 (after the original series was off the air) brought an official, authorized, new story.

The title may have been “Spock Must Die!” but the message was “Star Trek Won’t Die!”

There would go on to be literally more than 500 official Star Trek novels (and short story collections).


For the vast majority of them (and for decades) they’ve been published by Pocket Books (one of the original paperback companies), which is part of Simon & Schuster.

It even has its own stand-alone website:


Many of them are available in the USA Kindle store. A search for

Star Trek published by Pocket (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

gets 696 results at the time of writing.

I’ve been happy to see that the Star Trek novels have been available in the Kindle store.

One of my great disappointments with a publisher, though, has been Pocket/S&S choosing to insert code into the files which blocks text-to-speech (TTS) access.

TTS uses software to read a book out loud to you (I typically use it for a week in the car). It’s something I’ve written about many times before because I believe that blocking it disproportionately disadvantages people with disabilities.

That seems particularly inappropriate with Star Trek books to me. Star Trek (especially in the original series, but beyond that) championed diversity, even if it was imperfect in doing so. The original series made a point about prejudice against those with vision issues (who we would now say are “print disabled” or “print challenged”), and Star Trek: The Next Generation (there are novels from all of the series) had Geordi La Forge, a main character who wore a vision-enabling visor.

A Kindle with text-to-speech can read any text downloaded to it (including personal documents) unless that access is actively blocked by the publisher.

I was, therefore, very pleased to see that S&S is removing Digital Rights Management (DRM) from the Star Trek books going forward (they show 611 as currently available).

With no DRM, you can convert the file you receive to different formats (so you can buy a book and read it on a NOOK, Kobo, or Kindle, for one thing).

That should also mean that the TTS access is no longer blocked.

It appears that the new files have not yet been uploaded to Amazon, which makes sense. While Amazon doesn’t  specifically label books as DRM free or not (something which I think they should do), they do indicate the number of SDL’s (Simultaneous Device Licenses) available for a book.

Unless it says otherwise, the number of devices registered to the same account to which you can download the same compatible book at the same time is six. Some few books have fewer…and some will show as unlimited (books without DRM are unlimited).

Tor went DRM free some time ago, and I said that other publishers would watch carefully to see how that affects sales and rights infringement.

We haven’t heard any horror stories about Tor’s experience with going DRM free.

This is a major move in that direction.

I applaud Simon & Schuster for this decision.

Live long and prosper…


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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

4 Responses to “Unlocking the universal translator: over 600 Star Trek books go DRM free”

  1. Phink Says:

    I am so glad to see they are doing this. This means even more people can enjoy the Star Trek Universe. I am a huge Trekkie. So much so, I wonder if Paramount would give me permission to get a tattoo of the Klingon logo with my wife’s name written in Klingon underneath it? I wonder if it’s necessary? I see tons of copyright material on people’s skin. Does that mean they just do it without worrying about the trademark or is there a special rule for tattoos? Hmmmmm. My 25th anniversary is coming up and would make a great way to commemorate it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      Presuming that you weren’t going to make money by being in a business in which the rightsholder has registered the trademark, the trademark isn’t an issue. Trademarks are industry specific, and connected to trade.

      For copyright, it is the distributor/creator which is at legal risk, not the consumer (I should say at this point that I am not a lawyer, and this is my understanding of it as an interested layperson). When you buy a book in a bookstore, it is not your responsibility to check that the publisher has gotten the proper licensing for copyrighted images used in that book. This seems to me to be parallel.

      I’m confident that you getting the tattoo would not be a rights infringement. It’s possible that the tattoo artist would be at risk.

      That said, you could certainly ask the rightsholder…my guess is they would either tell you they were happy about it, or decline to issue an opinion because they would be legally advising you.

      I think it’s cool. 🙂

  2. Phink Says:

    I never wanted anything permanent on my body so I never got a tattoo. I realized at 50 years old permanent is not that far off hehe.

    On my 50th birthday in December 6 of 7 of our adult nuclear family went to the tattoo parlor to get Harry Potter themed tattoos. I don’t think anything we got would be trademarked and now not sure it would have mattered anyway. I got a pair of wire rim glasses with a lightning bolt over the right eye (or left if looking at it). My son got the golden snitch. My wife and daughter in law got an infinity sign with the glasses woven into it and my son in law (being a hunter) got Harry’s patronus on his lower right arm. I only plan on one more, the Klingon tattoo. I think I’m going to do that. Thanx for the info as you understand it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I’m fine with people doing what they want to decorate/modify their bodies. Aesthetically, personally, I don’t even like pierced ears. 🙂

      I like the choices your family made. 🙂

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