The Rotten World of Legal Citations

In the past few years, the issue of link rot has become a growing concern in relation to broken links in legal citations, most notably in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Two articles that discuss this problem in detail are:

  1. Raizel Liebler & June Liebert, Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation: The Life of a United States Supreme Court Citation Containing an Internet Link (1996-2010), 15 Yale J.L. & Tech. 273 (2013). Available at http://yjolt.org/sites/default/files/Something_Rotten_in_Legal_Citation.pdf (finding that 29% of websites cited in US Supreme Court opinions no longer worked);
  2. Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert & Lawrence Lessig, Perma: Scoping and Addressing the Problem of Link and Reference Rot in Legal Citations, 127 Harv. L. Rev. F. 176 (2014). Available at http://harvardlawreview.org/2014/03/perma-scoping-and-addressing-the-problem-of-link-and-reference-rot-in-legal-citations/ (finding that 49.9% of websites cited in US Supreme Court opinions and 29.9-34.2% cited in three law reviews no longer linked to the originally cited material – at 180, 186).

The latter article makes a distinction between link rot (when hyperlinks are no longer accessible) and reference rot (when a link is accessible but the originally cited material is no longer available). Id. at 177. The study found that “more than 70% of the URLs within the [reviewed] journals, and 50% of the URLs within U.S. Supreme Court opinions suffer reference rot.” Id. at 178. The authors also describe a potential solution to the rot issues in scholarly articles, Perma.cc (http://perma.cc/about), which “integrate[s] the preservation of cited material with the act of citation” by providing permanent links for webpages on a given date. Id.

For link rot in general, there are several free or low-cost resources for testing links and finding prior versions of webpages, such as:

  • For webpages, stand-alone programs: LinkChecker, Xenu
  • For webpages, browser add-ons: Firefox LinkChecker, Chrome Check My Links, Safari Dr.Web LinkChecker
  • Prior versions of webpages: Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Memento

 

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