We receive a lot of emails at Sprudge, and recently a couple of troubling ones arrived. After much reflection and upon request of parties affected, we have chosen to address in a public forum.
On Monday, July 13 we (being Sprudge Podcast Network hosts Ezra Baker and Tymika Lawrence, as well as Sprudge founders Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen) received an email from Roast Magazine founder and publisher Connie Blumhardt and author and green coffee importer Karl Wienhold. Blumhardt's message includes a forwarded message from Wienhold, and both are reproduced here in full:
There are three prongs to address in response: first, why Roast Magazine publisher Connie Blumhardt and author Karl Wienhold's implied request is without merit; second, why these emails from Blumhardt and Wienhold are inappropriate; and last, why we’re taking the unusual step of addressing all this publicly with our readers.
The implied request is without merit because it has been made in a vacuum of understanding related to intellectual property, public domain, and common use. The full title of Karl Wienhold's forthcoming book is “No Free Refills: Can Coffee Be Sustainable?” Neither Roast Magazine nor Wienhold own any copyright, trademark, or Creative Commons designation on the term “No Free Refills.” No exclusive intellectual property rights apply to the term. Were they to apply for one it is unlikely they'd receive it; the term is as much a part of the public domain of the American lexicon as “No Parking,” with endless citable examples of prior use. As far as social media confusion, Wienhold does not even hold the primary Instagram account called @nofreerefills; his contains underscores and was created four years after the primary account.
Emails like these, whether conscious or not, amount to a request that reinforces a culture of entitlement, and we feel that to reply discreetly is to perpetuate the cycle. Worse, to presume that there is an expectation that Lawrence and Baker owe Roast a resolution “sooner than later before it is more difficult” is to further act from a place of inappropriate entitlement over the use of a common phrase.
It's important to note the context in which these communiques came to pass. No Free Refills is a personal project for its hosts, Tymika Lawrence and Ezra Baker. While they are both coffee professionals who have worked in many capacities in coffee and continue to do so, the content created represents their views as individuals. Baker and Lawrence are easy to find on social media (Facebook, IG, Twitter, Linkedin)—yet Ezra was not contacted to ask where he could be reached, and this email was directed to Tymika’s place of work (at, incidentally, a company with which Roast magazine has an existing business relationship). Not including Baker and using Lawrence’s work email is, at its most generous, disrespectfully lazy. At its worst, it's a professional squeeze that devalues what their voices mean, what they have accomplished professionally, and why their show is important.
So why reply publicly, in a move we know will attract criticism? Our goal in sharing this is first and foremost because we support our contributors. So much has been said and written and tweeted and hashtagged about “Share Black Stories” and “Uplift Black Voices” in the last few months, and it’s good. It matters. It feels meaningful as publishers to be part of it. But it’s not just a Black Square on Instagram, or a public statement, or an article every couple of years. When you collaborate meaningfully and regularly with Black creatives you invite a barrage of critiques and emails and seemingly polite requests. Sometimes it all feels like a coincidence, and that's part of the story. We can't just run content centered on Black-owned businesses or champion Black voices and Black journalists passively; we must also stand up loudly and unequivocally when that work is threatened. We believe this deeply as publishers.
Baker and Lawrence are colleagues whom we greatly respect, and as publishers of Sprudge and the No Free Refills podcast, we are happy to stand with them and answer publicly: no. The podcast will not be changing its name, and Roast—a respected publisher of coffee journalism—is free to use the same phrase for its forthcoming book under the terms of public domain.
A new episode of the No Free Refills podcast is out today, and it is funny and great and worth your time. We are proud to publish it. Thank you for reading Sprudge.
Update June 20th: Roast Magazine founder Connie Blumhardt has issued a public response to this article on Twitter.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network.
Top photo of Ezra Baker and Tymika Lawrence by Jeremy Hernandez for Sprudge Media Network.