Saturday, February 23, 2008

Footnoting a personal conversation?

With respect to an earlier IPBiz post titled
Do law schools promote a culture of copying?
, please note the following text from the Volokh Conspiracy:

People sometime ask whether it's proper to cite blogs in a law review article. A few thoughts:

1. Crediting Ideas, Big or Small: Not only is it proper to cite blogs to credit them for their ideas -- it's mandatory, if an observation in your article was borrowed from someone else's blog post, or even just if the blogger had the original observation first. That's the same rule as when you borrow from a law review article, an op-ed, or even a personal conversation.

2. But Check with the Author: It's true that blog posts are often less thought-through than articles or op-eds. (They're also unedited, but many op-eds aren't substantially edited by editors, and certainly not by editors who have knowledge of the law; yet op-eds are certainly citable.) It therefore makes sense to check with the author before citing the post, in case the author wants to elaborate on it, or even recant it in some measure -- it's not necessary, but it can be helpful.

3. Supporting Authority: If, however, you're making an assertion that you want to rely on without proving yourself, and therefore want to cite supporting authority for it -- as opposed to giving credit to the originator of an idea, or referring to a particular counterargument that was seems to be present only in a blog post -- then you should cite a law review article or a book. Those are the sources that are more likely to be the more thought-through and detailed expositions of the argument.

4. Factual Assertions: Finally, you should not cite blog posts for specific facts quoted or paraphrased by those blog posts, whether they are facts about cases, statutes, social science data, or whatever else. Find, read, quote, and cite the original source instead. But of course that's true not just as to blog posts but also as to articles, books, and other sources -- if they are quoting or paraphrasing another source, you should go to the original. Don't let the intermediate source's errors and oversimplifications become your errors and oversimplifications.


Blogger Gunther Eysenbach MD MPH said...

As to instability, a lot of people (including lawyers, publishers, editors) use WebCite (, which allows anybody to take a stable snapshot of an URL, which will be permanently preserved (WebCite is a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium).
Quote from the New York Times:

WebCite used in the legal world

“(…) In a recent letter to The New York Law Journal, Kenneth H. Ryesky, a tax lawyer who teaches at Queens College and Yeshiva University, took exception to the practice, writing that “citation of an inherently unstable source such as Wikipedia can undermine the foundation not only of the judicial opinion in which Wikipedia is cited, but of the future briefs and judicial opinions which in turn use that judicial opinion as authority.” Recognizing that concern, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School who frequently writes about technology, said that he favored a system that captures in time online sources like Wikipedia, so that a reader sees the same material that the writer saw. He said he used for the online citations in his amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster Ltd., which “makes the particular reference a stable reference, and something someone can evaluate. (…)”

5:21 AM  

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