I have the following situation.

I have published a paper and in order to get and analyse the results for my research I created some software. I want to make my software open-source, so that anyone can do research with it and change/improve it for their purposes.

But I would like people to cite my paper if they are going to publish anything using my software. So if someone is just using it for fun, I do not care, but if someone modified it and used his modified version to collect/analyse the results, which he publishes in any paper, I want him to cite the paper I have wrote.

Is there an appropriate software license or other means for this purpose?

  • 3
    is it ethical to add clauses to a license (which is a commercial contract) such as "if you do X, then you must cite me?" I can see the motivation of the author, but this can go downhill very fast. May 16, 2013 at 13:37
  • 1
    In my opinion that there is nothing wrong with this. If you do not want to cite the paper, feel free to write your own software to do everything. That is the same way with any software. If you do not want to comply with agreement, do not use it May 16, 2013 at 13:54
  • @SalvadorDali: I think there is a difference between requiring a citation (as in, an entry in the bibliography of a paper) and requiring a mention (which can be anything between a full-fledged bibliography entry, a footnote, and a remark in the acknowledgments section. I'd see only few problems with the latter, but requiring a bibliography entry (when all other items in there have been selected for their relative relevance) essentially bans the use of your software unless that use is indeed central to the paper. Aug 26, 2014 at 14:21

2 Answers 2


You could try adapting one of the existing open source licences, with help from your university's Legal IP team. But a software licence is the wrong tool for the job.

One way to do it, is to write a methodology paper. That's the paper that then gets cited by anyone using your code, or an adapted version of your code, to produce material for subsequent papers.

As the paper you published was just about the results you got from the software, I've got some bad news and some good news for you.

The bad news is that you've got to write another paper.

The good news is that this new paper will use work that you've already done. It will be a methodology paper where you describe the software in detail, providing the source as supplementary information. And that's what will get cited, by those who use your software.

You can also include something such as a bibtex file in with the distribution of your software, to make citation easier: the more you can do to reduce hurdles to citation, the more chance you've got of getting those citations. Once you've got the above paper written, the bibtex file should describe that paper. And before then, you can do what the R-project does:

To cite R in publications, use

   title        = {R: A Language and Environment for Statistical
   author       = {{R Core Team}},
   organization = {R Foundation for Statistical Computing},
   address      = {Vienna, Austria},
   year         = 2013,
   url          = {http://www.R-project.org}

Citation strings (or BibTeX entries) for R and R packages can also be obtained by citation().

  • Thanks for explaining. In the paper I am not speaking about the software in details. I am stating the results that I got and mentioning briefly the software. May 15, 2013 at 19:36
  • 1
    Then your scenario is a perfect candidate for the second paper EnergyNumbers recommends. May 23, 2013 at 14:27

You cannot guarantee that people will cite the paper. All you can do is make it easier for them.

A rather obvious idea: why not write on the software's web page something like

If you use or adapt this software in your research could you please cite it as follows: [details of citation, such as bibtex].

Include this message also in the README file, the user manual and so forth.

  • This idea is understandable and really the most obvious. But it does not ensure that people will cite the paper. May 16, 2013 at 11:55
  • 6
    @SalvadorDali: You cannot guarantee that people will cite the paper. All you can do is make it easier for them. May 16, 2013 at 11:56
  • @JeffE: Will incorporate. May 16, 2013 at 13:37
  • You can always sue them for violating the license if they don't add a reference. In other words, cite or get cited. May 16, 2013 at 15:03
  • 3
    @FedericoPoloni: Seriously? May 16, 2013 at 15:33

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