Thursday, December 20, 2007

please, Santa, I've been a good (g)URL

J0341441_2 All I want for Christmas is a reliable Internet. Really. This co-editor of the blog has been pulling together materials for a presentation I'm making in February on the impact of the Internet in appellate briefs and opinions. One of the mostly frequently quoted cases addressing the validity of Internet information is St. Clair v. Johnny’s Oyster & Shrimp, Inc., 76 F. Supp. 2d 773, 775 (S.D. Tex. 1999), in which District Judge Samuel Kent wrote:

Anyone can put anything on the Internet. No web-site is monitored for accuracy and nothing contained therein is under oath or even subject to independent verification absent underlying documentation. Moreover, the Court holds no illusions that hackers can adulterate the content on any web-site from any location at any time. For these reasons, any evidence procured off the Internet is adequate for almost nothing, even under the most liberal interpretation of the hearsay exception rules found in Fed. R. Civ. P. 807. Instead of relying on the voodoo information taken from the Internet, Plaintiff must hunt for hard copy back-up documentation in admissible form . . . . 

Case in point? "Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information." Character "Michael Scott" from the t.v. satire, The Office (NBC Apr. 5, 2007). Legal writing's own Ian Gallacher (unlike Scott, a real person), while arguing the need for more “open-access” sources of law, recently had this to say about Wikipedia:

[T]he Internet’s unmediated “Wikipedia” site contains articles that have the appearance of authority, even though they could be completely inaccurate. . . . The open-access nature of the Wikipedia site means that anyone can post or edit an entry, and the sophisticated presentation software available as part of the site means that any entry, whether it be completely accurate or entirely fictitious, will look the same. Unwitting users of the site could be misled into following a theory supported by a Wikipedia entry that has no actual substance in reality. For this reason, many scholars mistrust anything that appears on the Wikipedia site and do not recognize it as a viable research source.

Ian Gallacher, Cite Unseen: How Neutral Citation and America’s Law Schools Can Cure Our Strange Devotion to Bibliographical Orthodoxy and the Constriction of Open and Equal Access to the Law, 70 Alb. L. Rev. 491, 503 n. 63 (2007). Even the Bluebook has a bias against the Internet. See The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 153 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 18th ed. 2005) (“When information is available in a traditional printed source or on a widely available commercial database, it should be cited to that source rather than to the Internet.”). So don't cite this blog, please! Unless, of course, you really, really, really like what we're writing about, and you can't find a better source.


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