Online Free Speech - Client, Aaron Peckham

Document Date: October 20, 2006

ACLU Defends Free Speech Online >>

Aaron Peckham owns and maintains Urban, an online dictionary of contemporary slang with more than 400,000 definitions for slang words and phrases.

Urban Dictionary has always been about freedom of expression — the freedom to share your words and your meanings (and your humor) with the world. I started Urban Dictionary in 1999, and in the last seven years people have sent more than two million definitions to Urban Dictionary. They range from “adorkable” (both dorky and adorable), to “top up music” (music you only listen to when your car’s windows are closed), to heated definitions of what we really mean by “liberal” and “conservative.” They’re funny and opinionated, and each definition gives readers an idea of what the author’s life is like.

I’m participating in this lawsuit because I don’t see a reason to limit the expression of the site’s authors. Everyone deserves the opportunity to express themselves, and everyone deserves the opportunity to understand everyone else. Urban Dictionary tries to make that kind of understanding possible (and be funny at the same time). It’s a dictionary that reflects the real world because it gives people the freedom to define the world, in their terms.

Free speech and the Internet go hand in hand, because online, anyone with a computer can be heard. The Internet equalizes people like that — no matter how much money you have, or how old you are, you can connect with a huge number of people. And it’s getting easier as computers become cheaper and easier to use.

Urban Dictionary is one of a huge number of sites where people can talk and think about the world. It’s a place for people to freely express themselves and to write about their lives through the definitions they post. Everyone’s a wannabe sociologist, and you can see that come out in Urban Dictionary. It’s also a way to watch our language evolve and to see what’s hot in pop culture.

I’m working on the second Urban Dictionary book. The first one came out in 2005, with a few thousand of the site’s best definitions. Language changes quickly, so it’s out of date already. In addition to the book, the site has shown up in lots of other places, like a court case in the U.K., trademark disputes, newspaper articles and graduation speeches. Urban Dictionary shows that the voice of the people is a great resource for figuring out what’s going on in the language and the culture.

Urban Dictionary evolved to what it is today because people used it for their own purpose — self-expression. My job is to support that use, and that’s why I’m participating in this lawsuit.

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