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Software Forensics Tools Enter the Courtroom

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Two international companies. An accusation of plagiarized software. A court trial. Two expert witnesses offer directly conflicting opinions. A judge who has never owned a computer must decide who's right.

Just a few years ago, the experts' testimony would have been the only technical evidence the judge would have considered. But now a third point of view is available, that of a sophisticated software program. By interpreting the program's results, an expert computer scientist can give a definitive, quantitative answer.

In recent years, litigation over software in the United States and elsewhere has skyrocketed, writes software forensics expert Bob Zeidman in the October 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum. Clearly, it's in society's best interest to resolve these lawsuits as efficiently and equitably as possible. But settling such disputes can get exceedingly technical, and few people have the expertise to parse source code—the human-readable form of a program—to determine what, if anything, has been illegally reproduced. A program that runs something as simple as a clock radio can have thousands of lines of code; a more complicated device, such as an airplane, can have millions.

That's why automatic software forensics tools are so useful. Just as software for analyzing DNA has become crucial in resolving criminal cases and paternity suits, tools that can quickly and accurately uncover illicit software copying are becoming key to copyright infringement litigation. Zeidman, creator of the software forensics programs CodeMatch and CodeSuite, explains how such programs are now being used in U.S. court cases.

"As the importance of software in our daily lives grows," Zeidman writes, "intellectual property disputes over that software are also likely to escalate. You may consider all that litigation a good thing, righting a wrong, or a bad thing, draining valuable resources. But software forensics tools that automate, quantify, and standardize such disputes can only be beneficial, in that they leave less room for misunderstanding and get to the important results and help resolve disputes much faster than ever before."

"Software v. Software" by Bob Zeidman is published in the October 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum.


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