Supreme Court to archive web-based content, combating link rot

In a move near and dear to librarians, the Supreme Court announced last week its effort to combat link rot in its opinions. In this context link rot refers specifically to web-based content that is cited in SCOTUS opinions that may change or disappear over time. The court will now capture the content and retain it on the SCOTUS website to preserve access to the information. The page will include the information from all decisions beginning with 2005.

The National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports that a 2013 study by Harvard Law School scholars found that 50% of links in SCOTUS opinions do not provide access to the material that was originally cited. The study measured both link and reference rot, not only checking whether a link actually worked, but also evaluating whether it linked to the same information that was cited.

The New York Times references a second study that evaluated link rot only, which found that 29% of links from Supreme Court decisions between 1995 and 2010 were no longer working at all. Both studies concluded that these were unacceptably high rates that could impact the ability of lawyers and researchers in the future to access the important information relied upon by the court.

Along with these changes, the Supreme Court also announced that beginning with the October 2015 term it would highlight edits made to slip opinions and note the date that they were revised, allowing readers to view both the old and revised text when they place a cursor over the highlighted section. The court also changed a policy about the attorney line for accessing the courtroom, now allowing only attorneys who will be attending the arguments to stand in line, preventing substitute "line-standers." This does not address the public line for court access.

Photo Credit: Joe Lewis via Flickr.