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September 24, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

A new study from Harvard Law School (get the full paper here) reports that nearly half of the links cited in Supreme Court opinions are rotten (sometimes cleverly so). A new web-service built through collaboration by many of the largest libraries in the world, Perma, currently in Beta, will enable users to create citation links that will never break.
posted by Lutoslawski (19 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Until Perma goes down.
posted by Memo at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

the Blue Book sucks for links. Hate it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of WebCite, which is currently having funding problems and may have to close submissions at the end of the year. Existing citations probably won't disappear, but who really knows? So best of luck to Perma.
posted by zsazsa at 2:09 PM on September 24, 2013

Isn't this what the DOI system is designed for? I know that a large number of academic papers have DOI addresses, which are meant to be totally static.
posted by themadthinker at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

The simplest answer is to replace all URL citations with http://www.dolekemp96.org/main.htm, which will never go down. The only downside to this solution is the rare situation where the information you wish to cite is not located at http://www.dolekemp96.org/main.htm.
posted by theodolite at 2:11 PM on September 24, 2013 [27 favorites]

Supreme Court opinions are rotten

You can say that again!
posted by goethean at 2:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, it's a giant copyright violation?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:31 PM on September 24, 2013

DOI is indeed intended to solve this problem. However it is far from perfect -- in particular, the mapping of DOIs to journal IDs is a secret. If the people who maintain DOI ever decide to stop doing so, then we're all in big trouble. I also don't think DOI has had much traction in the legal field.
posted by miyabo at 2:32 PM on September 24, 2013

Since our Justices are pretty much just making it up as they go along, links to precedent and other arguments and documents just get in the way of reaching preferred outcomes, anyhow.
posted by notyou at 2:35 PM on September 24, 2013

Hey, neat to see this here. No affiliation with the Perma folks, but I've been emailing with them. I'm meeting with them next week to talk about how they might appeal to judges and litigators, since I believe they're coming from an academic background and so far have mostly been thinking in terms of law review articles.

Notwithstanding DOI and the Internet Archive and so on, this is apparently an unsolved problem in the court system right now -- I've heard that reporters of decisions at various courts are constantly talking about what to do about linkrot, and for whatever reason none of the solutions have worked for them so far.

The unique thing Perma brings to the table is archiving at law school libraries. The body of "the law" includes decisions and documents going back hundreds of years, and while it's cool that they're in Westlaw these days, their permanent home is our law libraries. That's ultimately where the law of our land lives. So a coalition of law libraries is uniquely placed to say to courts, hey, if you want to cite web pages, we'll keep a permanent archive for you -- you can count on us. Of course it's not literally permanent, but then neither are the decisions citing the websites in the first place. If law libraries are willing to step up to the challenge, it's probably about the best you can do in this life.

The copyright question is an interesting one. Off the cuff, I think there's a strong fair use argument, especially if Perma compromises by limiting access to challenged documents. And I would love love love to watch someone try to sue a dozen law schools in an attempt to make them delete a document that they are preserving on behalf of the Supreme Court.
posted by jhc at 2:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, like OCLC's PURL was supposed to be?
posted by scruss at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The unique thing Perma brings to the table is archiving at law school libraries.

This, to me, was what stood out about Perma. I mean, this is their list of founding members:

Pence Law Library, Washington College of Law, American University
Law Library at Boston College, Boston College of Law
Pappas Law Library, Boston University School of Law
Biddle Law Library, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Charleston School of Law Library
CloudFlare, Inc.
Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School
Digital Public Library of America
J. Michael Goodson Law Library, Duke University School of Law
Florida State Law Research Center, Florida State University College of Law
The Leo T. Kissam Memorial Library, Forham University School of Law
Georgetown Law Library, Georgetown Law
Harvard Law School Library
Ruth Lilly Law Library, Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indiana University
Internet Archive
Louis L. Biro Law Library, The John Marshall Law School
Louisiana Statue University Law Library, LSU Law Center
Thurgood Marshall Law Library, Francis King Carey School of Law, University of Maryland
Melbourne Law School Law Library
Bodleian Law Library, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Harnish Law Library, Pepperdine University School of Law
The Fred Parks Law Library, South Texas College of Law
Robert Crown Law Library, Stanford Law School
Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library, UCLA School of Law
Grisham Law Library, University of Mississippi School of Law
Wiener-Rogers Law Library, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law
Tarlton Law Library, Jamail Center of Legal Research, The University of Texas School of Law
Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia School of Law
Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:08 PM on September 24, 2013

I'm one of the people behind Perma, and can share some more details -- and, now that it's a topic here, pay heed to the blue brain trust for refinements to the idea and implementation.

Perma differs from some of the other efforts to preserve the Web in that it's both a storage and reference system. PURLs and DOIs are only the latter -- like the domain name system itself, they're meant to provide a level of indirection so that if a given target goes down, a replacement can be specified by the original linker or author. Perma provides a permanent identifier, which is what follows the perma.cc domain name, and also provides storage of what's archived. And once vested (which I'll explain in the next graf), the idea is that no one -- not even the creator of the Perma.cc link -- can change or delete it, any more than an author can recant her own book and then demand that libraries de-shelve their copies of it.

While anyone can create a perma link, it isn't meant to be truly permanent until a journal "vests" it. That is, an editor can come along and say: we stand behind the claim that what you see in the archive is in fact what's (currently) at the site in question. Then the link will be archived forever -- and in the next version of Perma.cc, mirrored among the participating libraries around the world. So while any given perma instance can go down, all of them would have to vanish to make the perma archive not work. (Each participating library's domain will work as a substitute in this system, so perma.cc/URI will end up pointing to the same thing as perma.law.harvard.edu/URI, an so on for each partner, including the Internet Archive.) Perma.cc is meant to be able to round-robin requests to those partners to balance load, but if it somehow goes down, the URN substitution trick (perma.*) can fill the breach.

Oh, and on who gets to say what counts as a journal: any participating library can name a journal. Courts can be "journals," too, which means that they can start using and vesting Perma links in their opinions. The Bluebook determines most legal citation, both for scholarship and brief and opinion-writing, and we're working with the Bluebook editors for Perma to be included in its next edition. (And thanks to jhc's idea, Perma links can naturally have a legal citation-friendly format, e.g. "1 Perma ABC".) The vesting system is also meant as a way to prevent the libraries' solemn commitment from being invoked for family vacation photos, spam, or malware.

While less elegant than the dolekemp96 approach, my hope is that it will help libraries serve the central role honed so well over centuries: helping authors provide access to humanity's work, and vouching for its authenticity and integrity. And libraries take "forever" very seriously ...
posted by zittrain at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2013 [26 favorites]

In other news, Ted Nelson is laughing because if you guys had simply gone with his hypertext design rather than Tim Berners-Lee's, we wouldn't be having this problem.
posted by SollosQ at 3:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

"The simplest answer is to replace all URL citations with http://www.dolekemp96.org/main.htm, which will never go down."

These websites are preserved by 4President.org .
I think it's fantastic to be able to look back at both successful and failed presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore website isn't archived in such splendor but at least there are pictures.
posted by Harpocrates at 4:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not thrilled with the 'vesting' concept; it smacks of defining journalists. I'd rather see something like Archive.org with some kind directed spider that could be invoked by the act of citation.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2013

I have always suggested people check to see if a site has a history in the Internet Archive then cite the archive.org Wayback Machine link.
posted by Samizdata at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

SollosQ: "In other news, Ted Nelson is laughing because if you guys had simply gone with his hypertext design rather than Tim Berners-Lee's, we wouldn't be having this problem."

Damnit, you took my line. I was gonna say "If only y'all had listened to Ted Nelson, but noooooooooo!" (Honestly though I'd much rather Sir Berners-Lee, not that there aren't some really cool things behind the Xanadu platform, but... I think the openness is what makes it what it is and helps foster the current creative world we live in. I'd hate to see what would've happened with big media if Ted got his way.)

I think the thing, as much as my initial thought about archive.org (as others have said) isn't so much that it's bad in itself, but I think the level of accountability that Perma provides is somewhat greater. I think Archive is important and I love going to it when I need it (which I admit is sorta rare, but it's still good to have). I don't see why there isn't room for both.
posted by symbioid at 4:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harpocrates: Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore website isn't archived in such splendor but at least there are pictures.
Looks like the archive of dolekemp96 points to a Clinton-Gore website archive.
posted by larrybob at 5:16 PM on September 24, 2013

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