Link Rot: the Problem Is Getting Bigger, but Solutions Are Being Developed

Wikipedia defines link rot as “the process by which hyperlinks on individual websites or the Internet in general point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable.” Link rot is common throughout the online world. It is particularly troubling, however, when it occurs in legal materials where researchers seek to find important items that are no longer at the cited URL.

One early project to combat this problem began in 2007. The Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group “features government, policy, and legal information archived from the Web through a partnership between state and academic law libraries.” This Digital Preservation Project has been issuing annual link rot reports on their home page. In the 2014 report they found that “292 out of 579 URLs in the sample no longer provide access to the content that was originally selected, captured, and archived by the Chesapeake Group. In other words, link rot has increased to 51.12 percent within seven years.” This is indeed a massive problem.

Recognizing that link rot has become such an important problem, Georgetown University held a one day symposium, 404/File Not Found: Link Rot, Legal Citation and Projects to Preserve Precedent , in October of 2014. The presenters at the symposium explored the problem and emerging solutions to it. Many of these excellent presentations can be viewed on the symposium website linked above.

One promising solution is which “helps scholars, journals and courts create permanent links to the online sources cited in their work. “ is being used by the Michigan Supreme Court and Harvard Law Review to preserve links in their citations. Another solution to missing links is offered by the Los Alamos National Laboratory which has developed a Chrome extension called Memento. Memento is able to search multiple web archives at the same time. This can help you find a missing item if it has been archived at another location.

You can read more about the link rot symposium in an article by Pamela Lipscomb on page 16 of the Winter 2015 issue of Law Library Lights. Currently I am the editor of this quarterly publication of the Law Librarians Society of DC. This is one of the many things keeping me busy and connected in my retirement.


  1. More on link rot in the recent New Yorker article on the Internet Archive. It notes two kinds of link rot: the simple version, where the link leads to a dead end – the 404 problem, and the possibly more disturbing version where the link leads to a live page that is not the same as what it was when the link was created. Most of the time the replacement will be obvious, but not always.

    The article includes a short note on the use of that source in legal proceedings, quoting the founder of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle.

    When asked to authenticate a screenshot, he says, “We can say, ‘This is what we know. This is what our records say. This is how we received this information, from which apparent Web site, at this IP address.’ But to actually say that this happened in the past is something that we can’t say, in an ontological way.” Nevertheless, screenshots from Web archives have held up in court, repeatedly. And, as Kahle points out, “They turn out to be much more trustworthy than most of what people try to base court decisions on.”

    The article mentions as a possible solution, at least in academic settings. Will the courts start using it too?