Some contracts try to assign the copyeditor responsibility for third-party infringement. Meaning, for example, that if the work contains material for which permission was not granted, the copyeditor could be on the line for damages to both the publisher and the owner of the content.
The Professional Editorial Standards published by Editors Canada stipulate (in standard A9.1) that an editor should flag legal concerns. The standards do not go on to give the editor more responsibility.
IPEd’s standard A4.1 has similar wording. That’s from the Australian standards for editing practice put out by the Institute of Professional Editors. The Editorial Syllabus from SfEP (the UK association for editors) also says that editors need to be aware of legal issues (standard 1.10). None of these standards state that the editor should be responsible for legal compliance.
Why Copyeditors Shouldn’t Be Responsible
Here’s why a copyeditor might strike an indemnity clauses from a contract:
The copyeditor does not have the authority to enforce changes to address plagiarism or using content without permission (two related but not identical issues). Neither does the copyeditor have the last look at material before it is published. Therefore, the copyeditor cannot accept responsibility for the content. Writers might stet their changes, or proofreaders might make further alterations after the material has left the copyeditor; content is simply not under the copyeditor’s control.
Proofreaders can’t be assigned the responsibility because they are not asked to look at content at that level. (Refer to the standards again.)
Legal Limits of Liability
In some jurisdictions (and the jurisdictions vary wildly), there is also a legal principle along the lines that the powerless little guy can’t be assigned responsibility in an agreement. That means both that the court won’t agree that the copyeditor accepted legal liability if that person was reliant on Big Corp for a living (you might think of it as being dismissed because it was agreed to under duress), nor will they easily agree that the least able to pay in a settlement is the one responsible for damages.
Talk to your lawyer and find out your rights as a copyeditor. Legal schools often have a free community outreach service that will explain concepts like this as well as how your jurisdiction handles them.
Photo by Rumble Press used under CC BY 2.0 license.