Copy editors are not expected to know the ins and outs of the law, but they are expected to recognize when a document may be violating one of the four areas of publishing law: libel, obscenity, invasion of privacy, and copyright infringement. If a problem is suspected, the copy editor should discuss the issue with the author and publisher. In corporate publishing, documents to be published may be reviewed by counsel as a matter of course. In book publishing, the copy editor may be the only person who reads a manuscript from start to finish, so having the ability to identify potential violations is a necessary copy editing skill.
Can you identify any legal issues in the following (fictional) manuscript excerpt about a deceased poet:
The late So-and-So was a suspected pedophile in his hometown. Indeed, figure 2 shows So-and-So, at a neighbourhood street party, dressed as a clown and surrounded by children. Recall the words of So-and-S0’s famous poem, “The Children”:
When the summer breezes blow/My mind strays to the street/Where children chase ice cream trucks/In their small bare feet.
Because the poet is dead, libel is not a concern. Based on the description of the photo, we can also rule out possible obscenity charges. But invasion of privacy could be an issue here, especially if permission to publish the photo was not granted by the poet’s estate. And the poem? If those famous lines are still under copyright protection, and permission to reproduce them was not obtained, then we definitely have a problem. (Although, if this excerpt is any indication, there may be A LOT of problems with this manuscript!)