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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Legal Link Rot

The good folks at perma.cc recently conducted a “quick review” of the links in court filings made in the last five years by three of the largest law firms in the U.S.

They found that over 80% had at least one broken link and that, on average, these briefs contained around six broken links each.

When they examined links that were not broken (that is, the link resolved to some page, not to an error message), they found that nearly 30% of those no longer displayed the material referenced in the brief. (This is known as ‘reference rot’ or ‘content drift.’)

State of Mississippi Breaks All Its URLs

Carl Malamud noticed that the State of Mississippi relaunched their web site and INVALIDATED EVERY SINGLE URL!

The generic 404 error message delivered by the state’s website says:

The SOS site has recently been redesigned and relaunched and the addresses for most pages and files have now changed

Pointing to government websites is neither effective nor efficient. Selecting and Acquiring and Organizing digital government information into library Digital Collections is the best, most efficient and effective way to preserve that information and ensure long-term access to it for your Designated Communities.

9th Circuit Court cares about citation rot!

I learned something new and pretty cool today. Librarians at the 9th Circuit Court have been archiving citations in Court opinions since 2008 — and the Internet Archive has been archiving the archived citations in the wayback machine! However, I’m not sure if the change in their process is a good thing or a bad thing. Will those archived documents now only be available through the court’s filing system and PACER? Any law librarians out there who can clarify?

Since 2008, court librarians in the Ninth Circuit have been tracking citations to online resources and preserving original documents and/or web pages as Adobe PDF files. Although stored on the court website, http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/library/webcites/, the availability of these files is not readily apparent to legal researchers.

The process will change January 4, 2016, when PDF files of online resources cited in opinions are automatically added to the official case docket. The files will be immediately available to anyone accessing the docket through the court’s case management/electronic case filing system, or CM/ECF, and the federal judiciary’s PACER system.

Since January 2008, circuit librarians have identified 643 Ninth Circuit opinions having citations to online resources. The yearly totals range from a high of 102 opinions in 2011 to 69 opinions in 2014 with an average of 80 opinions per year. The number of web links cited in an opinion ranges from one to as many as 30.

via Online Citation Sources Added to Docket.

Supreme Court Website Addresses link-rot and content-drift

The Supreme Court has announced two important changes to its website. The Court will now highlight changes to slip opinions and the Court will now attempt to preserve web-based content cited in Court opinions. These website enhancements address two digital preservation problems: changes to content over time, known as “content-drift”, and content being deleted or moved, called “link-rot.”

Here is the text of the two announcements, which appeared under the “What’s New” section of the Court’s homepage:

Beginning with the October Term 2015, postrelease edits to slip opinions on the Court’s website will be highlighted and the date they occur will be noted. The date of any revision will be listed in a new “Revised” column on the charts of Opinions, In-Chambers Opinions, and Opinions Related to Orders under the “Opinions” tab on the website. The location of a revision will be highlighted in the opinion. When a cursor is placed over a highlighted section, a dialog box will open to show both old and new text. See Sample Opinions” for an example of how postrelease edits will appear on the website.

The Court’s Office of Information Technology is collaborating with the Library, the Reporter of Decisions’ Office, and the Clerk’s Office to preserve web-based content cited in Court opinions. To address the problem of “link rot,” where internet material cited in Court opinions may change or cease to exist, web-based content included in Court opinions from the 2005 Term forward is being made available on the Court’s website. Hard copies will continue to be retained in the case files by the Clerk’s Office. See “Internet Sources Cited in Opinions.”

An article in the New York Times puts these changes into context:

  • Supreme Court Plans to Highlight Revisions in Its Opinions, By ADAM LIPTAKOCT. New York Times (Oct. 5, 2015).

    The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would disclose after-the-fact changes to its opinions, a common practice that had garnered little attention until a law professor at Harvard wrote about it last year.

    The court also took steps to address “link rot” in its decisions. A study last year found that nearly half of hyperlinks in Supreme Court opinions no longer work.

Some good news re: “link rot”

Charlotte Stichter says that new reports from the Library of Congress Law Library’s Global Legal Research Directorate will soon have references that include a link to an archived version of the reference using perma.cc. The announcement appears on the blog of the Law Librarians of the Library of Congress, but please see also Herbert Van de Sompel’s comment on the project. Van de Sompel says that providing an archived copy is a good first step, but more is need. Specifically, robust references that include the original URI, the datetime of linking, and the URL of the archival copy.

  • Cooking Up a Solution to Link Rot by Charlotte Stichter, In Custodia Legis (August 14, 2015).

    A plan for implementing perma.cc in the Law Library’s Global Legal Research Directorate is now being cooked up, with a target implementation date of October 1 this year…. This means that hyperlinked footnote references in new reports by the Directorate will also contain a link to an archived version of the referenced web page, allowing readers permanent access to key legal materials.

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