Courts Facing Problem of "Link Rot"

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On July 30 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals announced (PDF) 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 The Circuit is among a number of courts across the country to confront the problem of dead links and superseded or obsolete information provided through living links.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 webpage.

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 ‘forever’ business.”

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
Categories: Uncategorized


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