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Software houses can check whether the code they develop has copied even just one snippet of code from any of 38 million open source files, using a new product that relies on source code 'fingerprinting' to reduce the risk of getting sued.

The product from San Francisco-based Palamida promises to give customers a full understanding of the origin, version, location and licence of open source and other third party code in their software products and applications.

While open source software can be used in commercial products, vendors must comply with the licence terms. The risk of misuse was highlighted last month when the UK subsidiary of security software firm Fortinet settled a lawsuit over its alleged non-compliance with the terms of the General Public Licence (GPL), which underpins the distribution of most open source software. So any software house need to be aware of what third party code has been used in development projects.

Palamida's product checks for copying by searching against its massive database of open source files, pulled from 40,000 of the most commonly used open source projects. CEO Mark Tolliver says his company's database is the world's largest and that its product, IP AMPlifier 3.0, reduces software compliance efforts "from weeks to hours."

Annual subscriptions are not cheap: pricing ranges from $50,000 to $250,000, depending on the size of the buyer. This gets you software to scan for binary, source code, images, icons, text documents and XML, checking whether any of your resources were in fact cut 'n' pasted from elsewhere. It is looking for fingerprint matches – which can be given away by project names, licenses, licence texts, licensor information, project release numbers, or any of its billions of source code snippets.

The company says its Knowledge Repository is many terabytes in size. But a compression algorithm is applied to put this on a size more manageable for storing on the customer's system.

"We specifically designed the software to work behind our customers' firewall because early feedback from customers indicated that this is an incredibly sensitive area for them, and they would certainly feel uncomfortable about 'sending' their code to any server outside their firewalls," a company spokesperson told OUT-LAW. "The only communication the customer has with Palamida is that we send updates of the Compliance Library to the customer."

Susan McKiernan, an IT lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said:

"There are only so many ways of writing the same instruction – so there is a good chance that software like this will flag matches where there has been no copying. There is no infringement if two people happen to write identical code independently – it's only a problem when one person copies another's work. But that is a common problem. So software like this may help with a firm's compliance efforts."

McKiernan added: "It's a clear indication of straightforward copying when the comments within code are duplicated, or better still, the errors. And that, presumably, is what will ring the alarm bells in this product."

See: Palamida

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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