On July 30 the D.C. Circuit
Court of Appeals announced () a plan to defend against “link rot”—links to web pages that cease to exist or
become altered—in the Circuit’s opinions. The Circuit is among a number of
courts across the country to confront the problem of dead links and superseded
or obsolete information provided through living links. The Circuit’s solution—led
by Circuit librarian Pat Michalowskij—is to convert to PDF any web page cited
in a Circuit opinion and add the document to the case’s corresponding
electronic docket. The Circuit’s docket is available through the PACER service.
Legal scholars, practitioners,
and law librarians have increasingly written
about link rot, warning that without attention the problem will worsen and
significantly affect not only legal research but the law’s tradition of stare decisis (here’s an interesting article on the subject by Texas
Tech Professor and Associate Dean of the Law Library Arturo Torres).
The newest edition of the
Bluebook (20th edition) adds a basic citation form for archived
sources (see Rule 18.1) that are designed to combat link rot (thanks to UNC Law
Librarian Aaron Kirschenfeld for the tip about the Bluebook update). Among those archival tools is Perma.cc, a service developed and supported by law
libraries to preserve web content and secure enduring access. The UNC Law
Library is a Perma.cc registrar and several of the UNC Law Journals are starting
to implement use of Perma.cc this academic year. With this new focus and these
new tools, we hope that more courts will follow the lead of the D.C. Circuit by
archiving or creating more durable surrogates of web links.
There are a few key difference
between the D.C. Circuit’s solution and Perma.cc’s approach. For one, the type
of content preserved is different -- the D.C. Circuit is essentially taking
dynamic content from the web and fixing it into a static medium—a PDF—while
Perma.cc creates both a static copy and a living duplicate of the linked
The second major difference is
in access. The D.C. Circuit’s preservation solution provides access only through
PACER, which is somewhat tricky to use for novices, and which charges $0.10 per
page to access. Further, while PACER is used in practice like a permanent
storage solution for electronic court records, its contents are not necessarily
safe forever. Just this past year UNC
Law Librarian Leslie Street blogged about content from several courts
that had been removed from PACER.
Perma.cc is free and has a
specific focus on ongoing preservation and access. Perma.cc explains that it
was “developed and maintained by the Harvard Law School Library in conjunction
with university law libraries across the country and other organizations in the
We are happy to hear that the
D.C. Circuit is taking an important step in preventing link rot. We hope the
next step will be to improve access to preserved webpages. Perhaps the D.C.
Circuit should look to Perma.cc.
Posted by Emily E. Roscoe on Tue. August 18, 2015 10:10 AM