to Cure Link Rot

by Martin Mack

In September, the New York Times reported the findings of a study conducted by Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science and vice dean for library and information service at Harvard Law School. The study found that 49% of all URLs cited by the Supreme Court are no longer active links. As the United States relies on the common law tradition, where ideas and laws are cited to support an underlying legal argument, and further, more and more people are relying on the Internet as the source of this information, dead links, or “link-rot” as it has been termed, is a serious problem facing practitioners and academics alike.

Professor Zittrain (photo by Andrew Feinberg)

Professor Zittrain
(photo by Andrew Feinberg)

Professor Zittrain’s work did not end with his study’s assessment. With the help of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and many other institutions, Zittrain and his colleagues are working on a solution. Their solution is, currently still in beta. Perma allows libraries, academic journals, and other institutions to create permanent links (or permalinks) that can provide a permanent citation to a source. If the original source of the material goes down because the institution no longer exists, moves archived content behind a paywall, changes the underlying server structure, updates content on a dynamic page, or for any other reason moves the content from where it once was, permalinks can be created to provide a reader with the original content.

An Example
The linked New York Times article above can also be located at the following address: Though the original link provided may not be available in the not-too-distant future, the Perma link should be there for years to come. Though it is possible that this service could itself fail and lead to dead links, the likelihood at this point is fairly low given its institutional backing.

Link Rot at UConn Law
UConn Law has four legal journals: The Connecticut Law Review (“CLR”), The Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal (“CPILJ”), The Connecticut Journal of International Law (“CJIL”), and The Connecticut Insurance Law Journal (“CILJ”). Looking through each journal’s most recently issues, dead links can be found in each volume, often multiple times throughout multiple articles. Below are but one example from each publication:

CLR: Nicholas J. Johnson, Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern Orthodoxy, 45 Conn. L. Rev. 1491, n.22 (2013).

CPILJ: Sunil Bhave, Warrantless Cell Phone Searches in the Age of Flash Mobs, 12 Conn. Pub. Int. L.J. 263, n.30 (2013).

CJIL: Aleksandar Marsavelski, The Crime of Terrorism and the Right of Revolution in International Law, 28 Conn. J. Int’l L. 243, n.201 (2013).

CILJ: Jay M. Feinman, The Enforceability of Releases in Property Insurance Claims, 19 Conn. Ins. L.J. 251, n.2 (2013).

Going Forward
At this point it is unclear how many journals, either at UConn Law or nationally, will transition to Perma, or a similar service. At UConn Law, CPILJ has already created a Perma account, and after consultation with Library staff, intends to begin incorporating permalinks in one or both of its upcoming issues.

Any other journal that wishes to enroll in Perma can go to its website and create an account using an official school email address. For more information go to About Perma. Though still in beta, the service currently provides fully functional permalinks for academic use.