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Friday, October 05, 2012

A Bizarre Licensing Agreement

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For several years, I’ve been using a free software program called WordWeb. It’s a dictionary that sits in your system tray and it comes in quite handy for someone who writes and edits every day.

Once a year, a question will pop up when I open the software asking if I have flown in the past twelve months. I check no, and move on. But when it happened again this week, I was curious enough to find out why that would matter.

I ended up on the licensing page and found the most bizarre licensing agreement I’ve ever read. It says that if a person takes more than two commercial flights a year, he or she is not eligible to use this software. Their reasoning?
Global greenhouse gas emissions are currently around 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, and probably need to be reduced by at least 80% have a good chance of avoiding dangerous warming. Most computer users are responsible for far more emissions than is sustainable. For example two short-medium distance return flights can be equivalent to over 1 tonne of emissions1: more than an average person can safely emit over an entire year.
This doesn’t make sense for a couple of reasons.

First, what does being a “computer user” have to do with emissions on flights? I don’t understand the connection. Maybe one of you can help me.

Second, if computer usage is so evil from this company’s perspective, why in the world are they in the business of producing software?

It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. The agreement goes on to say:
The licensing model is designed to allow relatively non-wealthy people to use the program free of charge, and to provide a small incentive for other people who fly a lot to cut down.
So, the implication is, only wealthy people fly. That is ridiculous.

Look, WordWeb Software has every right to charge for its product, but to impose a charge that can only be seen as a penalty for people who fly (I don’t) is bizarre. And you get the feeling that they don’t have any idea what they are talking about.

Here’s the footnote to the agreement:
Flights are particularly bad because of additional non-carbon emissions and cloud formation at high altitude: the short-term warming effect is estimated to be many times worse than the same CO2 emission at ground level, perhaps a factor of two worse on a twenty-year timescale, but it could be worse than this – the science is not well understood.
The science is not well understood? Then how can WordWeb Software make any of the claims it makes? And who wrote this agreement?


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