A while back, Eric Burns of Websnark fame wrote up an article on retroactive continuity (retcons) in comics. In his typical fashion, Burns dissected the very concept of what a retcon is, and the varied forms they take. Just recently I’ve discovered (thanks to Howard Taylor of Schlock Mercenary fame) that there is in fact a sixth form of retcon: the Legal retcon, in which the very archives of a webcomic have been altered to try and avoid litigation concerning trademark violations: in this case, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates,” which was a parody of the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.
If I recall my legalese, Covey actually does not have a leg to stand on here; Taylor was using the title in parody of the original and did not base the comic around the parody title or the like. Unfortunately, depending on the whims of the judge (and how business-oriented the judge is; technically Schlock Mercenary is “art” which would likely get short shrift from today’s corporate-friendly judiciary), Taylor very possibly could have lost the case. Even if the judge did support Taylor, the legal fees could very possibly bankrupt Taylor, resulting in the legal retcon.
In an amusing note, Taylor has taken this legal lemon and turned it into literary lemonade. The new title, “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries,” is admittedly superior to the old and has the added benefit of being unique to Taylor and to Schlock Mercenary. Further, by publicizing the incident Taylor very likely encouraged added archive crawls of his comic, which may lead to added book sales – especially as wily fans try to snatch up the remaining original copies that possess the original term; seeing that miscast coins and stamps are collectors’ items, I’m sure a book with a legally ambiguous title will be as well.