The Internet is a dynamic place. While that is a benefit when we want new information quickly, it is a challenge in the legal field when we need a reliable, stable platform on which to build our arguments or conduct research. This backdrop is where the Wayback Machine comes in. The Wayback Machine is a service provided by the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library dedicated to the preservation of our digital culture, which contains more than 26 years of archived web pages available for our viewing. This resource can serve our profession in two ways: first, as a tool for researching information that has disappeared from the public-facing internet; and second, as a tool for providing a stable link for use in briefs and motions. There are for-profit entities out there that will charge you for a similar service, however the Internet Archive is free, and has a proven track record of stability.
As a Research Tool
The Wayback Machine gives users the ability to go back and see what a particular webpage looked like on a certain day. For instance, here is this blog from April 27, 2012: https://web.archive.org/web/20120427202547/http://nlsblog.org/. Or here’s the front page from the New York Times on February 23, 2016: https://web.archive.org/web/20160223172920/https://www.nytimes.com/.
Once you have selected the correct site, the Machine will take you to a timeline and calendar where you can select the capture for the desired date and time. First, click on the correct year on the timeline, in this example, 2019.
Next, select the date and capture time you want from the calendar. A quick note, captures and dates that are blue are better than green, so go for those if possible.
The Wayback Machine will now load snapchat.com as it looked on June 8, 2019, at the time you selected.
To save it, you can either print it, capture it with software like WebPreserver, or link to it via the Wayback Machine. For more information on this last method, see the next section.
Stable Links for Citation
Citation to internet sources in motions or briefs can be a tricky thing. Sure, the Bluebook can tell you the “proper form” for an internet citation, but no amount of spading today guarantees that a link will work tomorrow. Not only can a website change its structure, rendering the link dead, but the site itself could disappear, taking all its data with it. The Wayback Machine can help.
Simply copy and paste the URL from the address bar into the citation in your brief. Now, when the court glowingly quotes your winning argument in a ruling, future lawyers reading it on Westlaw in ten years can click and read the original source material without encountering a dead link.
But what if the information you want is not on the Wayback Machine yet? Perhaps the website hasn’t been recently archived, or worse, has never been archived? You can trigger the Wayback Machine to take a snapshot of a page on demand, which will give you a stable link to the information you want for citation. To trigger a capture, go back to the Wayback Machine homepage (https://web.archive.org). Instead of entering a query in the search box, enter the URL you would like to preserve in the “Save Page Now” box.
For instance, this blog had not been archived since January. I entered https://nlsblog.org into the “Save Page” box, and told it to save. After a page where I confirmed what I wanted, The Wayback Machine got to work:
Now the Wayback Machine has a current snapshot. To copy the link, right-click on the “Visit Page” link and select “Copy Link Location” or visit the page itself and copy the URL from the address bar.
As a warning, the Wayback Machine will not work with all websites. Some sites use special settings (robots.txt) to prevent automatic capture or crawling by sites by search engines. For example, individual Facebook profiles are not available. A good rule is if you can’t find it with Google, you probably won’t find it on the Wayback Machine.
As I said in the beginning, the Internet is a dynamic place, but we do not have to let it stop us from finding the information we need or cause us to worry about the citations in our legal arguments. The Wayback Machine can be a blissful island of stability in an ever-changing world. Cite with confidence.