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How The Wayback Machine Is Used As Evidence In Court

Mar 1, 2008
There is an independent, unbiased online resource that is available to every website owner and visitor looking to research a website the way it looked years ago. Not just one point in history, but a visual record archived over a period of time.

It is similar to caches that search engines take of websites that are available to visitors until the web page is cached again. When a search engine caches the page again, the last cache is gone forever. Wouldn't it be great if there was a record of every cache? Well there is!

Recently I has a serious situation that caused me a problem ranging from cyber libel to possible litigation because someone falsely accused me of using their content on my website.

This was a serious accusation that threatened my reputation. It didn't matter whether or not I had a copy of it on my personal computer or a print of it in my filing cabinet. That would have been easy enough to create. And it didn't matter what I told the public in my defense because it was my word against the accuser's word.

What saved me was the Wayback Machine. As mentioned, this tool visits every website and takes a snapshot (PDF) of the entire website for prosperity, like a time capsule complete with the month, day and year. And that is just what it did in my case. It proved that I was in possession of the document two years before the person supposedly created their content. It proved that the accusations were false and that the other person was the one who copied the material from my website.

Without this tool, it would have been a "she said, she said" situation. Or worse, I would have been forever branded for doing something that I did not do. You can think of it as online DNA!

There are so many ways to produce fake supporting documentation these days. But the Wayback Machine is completely impartial. It is like a stranger that stops by periodically, sometimes every month, to create a PDF of every one of your website's pages.

I'm surprised that many website owners have not heard about it. The legal profession is using it now to help build cases from copyright infringement to criminal cases.

It has also been a handy dandy tool when I have lost my website files. All I had to do was go to the Wayback Machine, type in my website address and access my files that were archived in the past. The only drawback is that it does not copy all of the images on a website. You will see all of the text and placeholders where the images used to be. The entire structure of a website stays in tact in full color.

Now that you know about the WayBack Machine, you may not be happy about the fact that it caches your website periodically. Some people feel this is a violation of privacy or a "big brother is watching" government conspiracy. Personally, I don't see how if you have a public website already.

If you do not want the WayBack Machine to visit your site and make a complete copy of it, all you need to do is place a robots.txt file at the root of your website directory to block it from visiting your site. The are instruction at archive "dot org" (the official site of the WayBack Machine).

Before you decide to block the robot from caching your website, consider the advantages. If someone ever accuses you of copying and putting their written work on your website, you could prove that the work was on your website before the date that they claimed to have written it.

If nothing else, you will always have a backup of your website files.
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