"Web Links to Nowhere" in SCOTUS Decisions: How to Ensure that Cited Material Remains Available for Years to Come

Raymond E. Harmon According to a recent article in The New York Times, half of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court opinions no longer link to the information originally cited. Even at this level, creating a link directly to a website can be risky business. Websites expire or change owners, while web pages are relocated or archived. The question arises, how do you take control of slippery online material when citing to a web source directly?

In an ideal world, it would be easiest to copy a web path directly into your link command, but what happens five years from now? What happens in ten years when that website is no longer valid or even in existence? It’s important to understand that you have no control over that pinpoint material. Therefore, you are at the website’s mercy and the one at risk when referencing online material.

Counsel Press’ eBrief team has extensive experience and deep expertise in hyperlink technology. We have assisted thousands of attorneys with enhancing their briefs, from basic hyperlinking to conversion of video and audio exhibits. Over the years, we have developed a number of techniques for combating website link rot, and we wanted to share a few of these in this Blog.

The easiest and most reliable way to prevent link rot is to do a simple conversion: create an image file of the website you are viewing. By converting a web page to a PDF, you have locked that web page material down as an image, permanently. You can then link directly to that image file. Whether you choose to link externally, internally or as an attachment file, it is up to you and a subject best left for another post.

Video files are especially tricky. The New York Times article notes one hyperlink in an opinion about violent video games by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. The hyperlink takes users to an error page that reads: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t cite to this Web page?” So, how do you avoid the video link rot in your legal document?

It’s always best to try to utilize the exhibit material that you have available directly to you, e.g., deposition, surveillance, animations, etc. If you have to use an online video, I would ask for permission to use it directly from the source. Once you have the video files in place, you will need to check the size. If the size is large, the best solution is converting video files into a standard file format, e.g., mpeg, mp4, etc. This will ensure that all operating systems are able to (dis)play the video file. If the file size is more manageable, embedding video files directly into PDF can be another nice option. For example, at Counsel Press, we have uploaded many appellate filings into the PACER/ECF database that contain video material embedded directly into the brief and/or record. (Read more about this new option here.)

When linking to citation material online, like statutes and case law in LexisNexis and Westlaw, you also have the capacity to create links that search for the relevant material rather than simply directing the command to that web page. In other words, the link will find the specified document rather than look for a web page directly.

Sometimes, the answer can be a combination of things. What about two links? One link might lead directly to the web page and the other to an image of the web page. However you decide to proceed, if you do have to reference something directly online, make sure that it’s from a reputable source. Avoid URL shorteners as they are prone to rot. One last thing: check your links often!

There is no easy answer for linking directly to web sources, but, with a few techniques, you can ensure that your cited material will remain available and relevant for years to come.

Read related articles:
"Hyperlinking" Your Appeal: Types of Hyperlinks and Techniques, A General Overview
CP eBriefs now offer cross-document linking directly to PACER documents

Tagged: Court Technology, Production & Support, Electronic Briefs