One of the things that keeps librarians up at night is something known as link rot (don’t get us even started on “fake news” and information literacy). There was an article highlighting this issue in the NY Times a couple of years ago, but basically, link rot happens when you cite something on the web that ends up moving its URL, changing its form somehow, or being deleted altogether. As the internet grows naturally from its infancy and more things change, it becomes harder and harder to identify sources, and more and more links lead to dead ends.
This is happening in case law and the legal world as well as the scholarly one, and you can understand how this might be important when the footnotes and links are referring to the basis of legal precedent. The Times article identified that in 2013, a study found that 49% of their Supreme Court decisions links no longer worked. There have been a couple initiatives to try and rectify this since then, the largest of which being Perma.cc, which archives and gives permanent links to resources so that they will no longer change.
Today, the Supreme Court of Canada revealed a similar project they have been working on, their depository of Internet Sources Cited in SCC Judgments (1998 – 2016), which contains permanent links to documents referred to in SCC decisions. Here is their news release regarding the service:
January 26, 2017
OTTAWA – Recognizing that web pages or websites that the Court cites in its judgments may subsequently vary in content or be discontinued, the Office of the Registrar of the SCC has located and archived the content of most online sources that had been cited by the Court between 1998 and 2016. These sources were captured with a content as close as possible to the original content cited. Links to the archived content can be found here: Internet Sources Cited in SCC Judgments (1998 – 2016).
From 2017, online internet sources cited in the “Authors Cited” section in SCC judgments will be captured and archived. When a judgment cites such a source, an “archived version” link will be provided to facilitate future research.
An important step forward. Hopefully we will see similar initiatives by other courts to help address this issue.