I'm writing my PhD thesis and inside that I've used some screenshot that I found inside the online documentation, only to show the purpose and some functionalities of the software.

I'm talking about Cytoscape and I've read in their documentation that the manual itself is released with the same license of the software:

The Cytoscape User Manual copyright is owned by The Cytoscape Consortium, and is made available under the same GPL license as Cytoscape itself: LGPL 2.1, the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2.1, February 1999 available in text at http://www.gnu.org/licenses/lgpl-2.1.html.

I already ask permission and license for every image that I've used that come from a closed publication/scientific article with the appropriate form present in every journal/editor site (e.g. springer, elsevier, etc...). I also underlined every public domain image or cc-by figures from Gold Open Access publications (e.g. ScientificReports).

Now, in the case of the screenshots from the Cytoscape manuals I don't know how to operate. The LGPL license that I've found talk about packages, libraries and software. How to cite and the obligation to redistribute or code etc... Now, I'm not in IT, but I simply want to showcase some Cytoscape functionalities using some screenshots present in the tutorial online, without recreating them (the thesis is almost finished and I really don't have time to recreate the same screenshots myself).

What is the appropriate way to proceed? I do not have code to redistribute or something like that, only the text of my thesis in which there are present the figures.

  • Have you already tried to contact the Cytoscape Consortium? What was their response? IMHO, LGPL is not very suitable for documentation, but as you are running out of time it is not viable to start a discussion with the consortium about changing that. Commented Apr 17 at 8:24
  • Depending on your jurisdiction, there might be a fair-use-exception for use of copyrighted material in academic research. But this is out of scope here, for this you might want to check LawSE. Commented Apr 17 at 8:31
  • @Martin_in_AUT Thanks, I'll try to contact them. I've searched in the project page but maybe I missed the link to the contact info to the consortium. Thank you! I'm not based in the USA so i think the fair use it not applicable. I've spent the last weeks contacting every author for the photographs, using the CCC and RightsLink for the image from Closed paper/articles. Some screenshots and image from documentation on github are under MIT and thats ok, basically only the one from Cytoscape are under LGPL and that was quite "new" to me. Commented Apr 17 at 9:11
  • What would you normally do in your country if publishing papers regarding a product/publication that was proprietary (e.g. Microsoft Excel, MATLAB, etc.)? Normally it is allowed to use factual information, figures, screenshots, etc. for academic purposes, regardless of whether or not there is a license involved. This is maybe more of an academic question of how to do it properly (e.g. works cited) than it is really about free-software/open source.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 18 at 6:47
  • @Brandin Yes I've talked with my University and they basically told me to follow every possible guideline in the editorial or official site. Now, that for papers/scientific articles translates to follow a procedure for closed access papers with CCC or Rightslink and asking a license number to use a figure or a table. The basically allow that automatically after this request. For photographs I asked directly the photographer itself. For every other open sources (cc-by, cc-by-sa) I listed the license and a link to the author. This is the first time that I encounter LGPL... Commented Apr 18 at 8:23

1 Answer 1


Regarding the requirements of the LGPL, they can be summarized as

  1. If you make changes to the LGPL-licensed work (the image in your case), then you must distribute your changes also under the LGPL license and you must (also) provide it in a format that is preferred for making further changes (a.k.a. source code). It can happen that your distribution format and source code format are the same, for example for SVG vector graphics.
  2. If you just use the LGPL-licensed work in something bigger (like using the image in your thesis), the LGPL requires that recipients are able and allowed to replace the LGPL parts with a new version. In practical terms, this means that you would be required to publish an electronic version of your thesis that makes it possible to replace the LGPL image(s) and your thesis needs to be published under terms that allow that replacement to be done. Those terms can include reasonable restrictions like making it clear that changes have been made and that it is no longer your thesis and you can also disallow making other changes.

You can also discuss with your department's legal advisors if your local copyright laws have a similar concept as fair use and if your use of the image would fit within that concept.

Regarding citation of the work, the LGPL is agnostic of academic citations and is silent on the matter. I would follow the same practices as you have done for the Creative Commons or MIT licenses.

  • Thanks. I'm referring to plain images such as png. Screenshot that serve the purpose as a tutorial to showcase a functionality. Like: manual.cytoscape.org/en/stable/_images/BarChartsNetworkZoom.png I merely use two screenshot present in the manual, slighlty cropped. Basically it is only used to show that with this software I can assign multiple style to a node and even use barplot or piechart as a node icons. Commented Apr 17 at 9:46
  • Then in the other section of the thesis there a re the original images produced with that software after the data analysis, the screenshots only serve the purpose to showcase in the introduction why I chose that software and its functions. I contacted the consortium as the suggestion from @Martin_in_AUT. But at this point I think it is better to just delete those two screenshots... Commented Apr 17 at 9:48
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    @PhDThrowaway, Would it be an option to replace that image with one you created yourself? It could be created with dummy data to try-out the application (even if it is now really after the fact, the readers of your thesis don't have be told), or even from your real data (perhaps zoomed in and/or cropped). That would also get you away from the whole LGPL license issue. Commented Apr 17 at 10:00
  • Yes I'm thinking to recreate something similar with older screenshot that I've made in the past... The author/community/consortium of Cytoscape answerd my mail and told me that i?m free to use every screenshot in the manual in my thesis, and they appreciated the interest and my citing both the website and the original publication/article. Nevertheless, I've read in the past some author talking about freely use or edit some latex packages: opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/2735/… Commented Apr 18 at 8:31
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    That's the reason that the GPL is entitled "Public" license. It's a license for everyone (the public) as opposed to a private license. What the author gave you now is a separate private agreement for you to do that thing (to place the items into your thesis). Maybe you should print the e-mail exchange for reference and then ask your thesis adviser what is a good procedure for this kind of situation.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 18 at 10:31

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