Perma.cc solves the problem of link rot for law schools, courts, and universities. Link rot occurs when the hyperlinks cited in scholarly papers and court opinions no longer lead to the webpages they’re meant to reference. Perma.cc creates a permanent, archived version of a website and assigns a permanent URL to that version. The archived version of the cited content will then be permanently available—even if the website modifies, moves, or deletes the page’s originally cited content.
Perma.cc was developed by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and its founding supporters included more than sixty law-school libraries, along with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Internet Archive, the Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and the Digital Public Library of America. Here at the University of Houston Law Center, our law review and journals have been creating Perma links since the summer of 2016, and all are very satisfied with the user experience and results. Collectively, the Law Center’s Perma.cc users have preserved more than 1300 webpages in the less than year for readers to reference, even as URLs change and content disappears.
This month the excellent Editor in Chief of the Houston Law Review’s 54th board, Jennifer Robichaux, came to me with a question about archived pages that were now marked as “private” and not available for view. In particular, this affected links from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Curious, I began to check the footnotes of other law review and journal articles that had Perma links to articles from these sites. The result was the same: many Perma links to New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, all marked as private. Here’s what the result image looks like:
It still contains a link to the originally captured page, allowing for verification of the record, but not complete access unless you are a subscriber.
How does this happen? The magic is in the page’s source file. According to Perma’s User Guide:
“Some Perma Records become private automatically upon creation, and their status cannot be changed. This applies to pages with a “noarchive” metatag or a Perma-specific exclusion in the site's robots.txt file. Each of these Perma Records is preserved in a dark archive and is accessible only to the individual account, organization and registrar responsible for the Perma Record.”
Learning this I went to the New York Times and checked the source code for an article published today. Sure enough a quick search found this: <meta name="robots" content="noarchive" />. Mystery solved.
Archival services like Perma.cc weren’t created to subvert copyright, but to preserve the record. Since the actual creating organization may still view the archived page, it remains useful for the organization’s source files. But adding the Perma link to footnotes in these situations is of little help to the reader.
Journals, law reviews, and others who publish Perma links to give readers access to online materials should be aware of this practice, and check what their Perma links display before publication and adjust citations accordingly. Librarians managing Perma accounts for their institution can assist by noting this in their communications with incoming editorial boards this spring and summer.