Gibson Guitars, the Lacey Act, and You

I would guess we all have heard about the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s raid on the Gibson Guitar company on August 25th. If you haven’t, you need to push back the rock a little.

The U. S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee originated the warrants for possible violations of the Lacey Act, as amended in 2008. This act makes it illegal to import any wood or any item containing wood that was harvested, manufactured, or exported in any way contrary to the laws of the originating country. In other words, when Gibson imported wood from India, if any Indian laws were broken in doing so, then the wood becomes contraband and then Gibson is liable for illegally importing that wood into the United States.

The problem is, the Attorney General’s Office decides if the foreign country’s laws have been broken, and in this case, NOT the Indian Government. In fact on September 16, Vinod Srivastava, an official in India’s foreign trade office, issued a letter explaining that the wood imported by Gibson was legally exported from India. However, in a sworn statement to the courts, the Fish and Wildlife Service basically implies that the Indian Government is not as capable of interpreting their own law as is the United States Attorney’s Office.

This is not the first time Gibson was raided by the Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2009, most of the guitar makers were legally importing ebony and other woods from Madagascar. On March 16, 2009, the military in that country over threw the government. Since the Administration found the new government of Madagascar to be illegal, then they allegedly decided that any laws of that government were illegal so any wood bought from that country was now contraband. So, on November 17, 2009, they raided and confiscated wood from Gibson Guitars and they still have it, and no charges have been filed.

In a true twist of fate, Gibson Guitars, along with many other luthiers, were instrumental in getting the 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act passed. It was meant to level the playing field against Chinese instrument makers who did not have to abide by the international trade restrictions our manufacturers were living under. Now, under the current interpretation, Lloyd Loar would be a common criminal. As most well-meaning environmental legislation is inclined to do, it has brought unintended consequences.

In January of this year, a Georgia piano dealer was fined $17,500 and given three years probation for importing elephant ivory. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the 100 YEAR OLD ivory keys of the antique pianos he bought overseas and brought to Atlanta to refurbish were “illegal trade in ivory” and confiscated the pianos and other items belonging to the company.

So, your Brazilian rosewood cufflinks which belonged to your Grandfather are now illegal contraband. You could be arrested and fined up to $500,000 for leaving the country and then coming back in with those cuff links without proof of where, when, and how the wood was harvested. It kind of makes you look at your collection of antique rosewood smoking pipes in a different light doesn’t it?

Tim Knight

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10 thoughts on “Gibson Guitars, the Lacey Act, and You

  1. Two comments come to mind after reading this article. First, is it just me or is our government getting more like the Gestapo every day. What happened to due process? Second, the passing of this amendment, as it was worded, is another example of the ineptitude of our elected officials to fully understand all the ramifications of what they pass. While I support the intent of the amendment, I do not support the government’s broad interpretation while enforcing it.

  2. Man,now that is what ”red tape” looks like!or calling it a lot of bullshit!It seems all over the world,people have more time investigating unimportant issues,than solving real problems like hard criminal acts:rape,murder,childmolesting and so on.But people and companies,who are world renown,gets harassed by authorities ,most probably for something that they might have been not aware of.I mean a company like Gibson,how much revenue do they earn for their country,must be a fortune!

  3. Just another fine example of interpertation of the law by the same
    person who claims that the 2nd amendment does not mean that each and every CITIZEN has the right to keep and bear arms.



  4. Frank, don’t be to thankful yet, it’s just that you haven’t had the bad luck to be doing something legal, and be charged for it. Similar things happens every day in this country of ours, and if you don’t think that it does you haven’t been listening to the right people. Or watching the same news chanels as I have been watching, our country is as screwed up legally as well as the rest are.

  5. This sad tale is another bit of evidence that the “vast government conspiracy” theorists are all wrong. The US government is not competent to mount even a little bitty conspiracy. Somehow I feel safer, even while threatened.

  6. There’s finally an awareness to the actions of the U.S. government’s imbecilic actions due to the ever increasing use of Administrative Agencies, that have become somewhat of a “fourth branch of government” according to many legal scholars.

    I had taken legal courses in college while earning a degree in Advanced Legal Studies. I had a choice between two electives courses; women in America or Administrative Law. They both sounded as though they would bore me to death, but I’d opted for Administrative law. The course was one of the most interesting and eye-opening classes ever taken.

    America passed what is known as the “Administrative procedures Act” in 1946. This is an Act that placed into legislation the rules that Agencies and citizens would be bound from that time on. Is it just acoincidence that this Act was passed in 1946, or is it possible, or likely, that America had seen what politicians of the era thought might be a better way to run things here in the U.S. by implementing a system by which the delegation of power (specifically forbidden by Art. I of the U.S. Const.) was used by Congress to spread what we now know to be “Administrative Agencies” all over the nation?

    Administrative Agencies are able to get around the “non-delegation of powers” clause in the Constitutions, which states that “All law-making powers shall be vested in Congress” by referring to Agencies directives as “Rules” rather than “Laws.” IN reality, we’re talking about a matter of political semantics that have allowed for the overwhelming growth of governmental intrusion and control over every U.S. citizens life. To make matters worse is the fact that the individuals with the power to implement Administrative Agency “Rules,” that DO have the effect of “Laws,” are individuals that have NEVER been elected by any democratic process, cannot be voted out of their positions, and are do not have to justify anything they do with tax dollars to the American public; ever.

    As citizens, the only recourse against the actions of Administrative Agencies, with respect to individuals in positions of power, is to overwhelm Congress with complaints until Congress decides that the individual, or agency itelf, has overstepped its bounds in accordance with the Congressional mandate that had created whichever Administrative Agency one is speaking of at the moment.

    Good luck with that mess.

  7. Hey, Somehow the Fish and Wildlife thing just slipped by me unnoticed because I was so immersed in the foolishness of “our country’s elected and appointed officials” trying to put interpretations into the mouths and ears of other countries by telling them how and what their laws affect in the “Grand Scope of Grabbing $$$$$$$”

    Why don’t the Fish and Wildlife do what they are supposed to be doing and enforce the “Poaching ” in our waters and help prevent the Loss of one of our most valuable treasures, “Menhaden” or what most people know as the “Mossbunker” a fish that filters our waters by eating algae and is a valuable link in the food chain for Game Fish
    (Which the search for brings in Billions of dollars every year from the Sport Fishing industry in TAXES) This fish is rapidly disappearing from New Jersey’s waters because of out of State Commercial Net dragging operations who profit in the sale of same to Fertilizer and Cat Food manufacturers.
    I guess we all can figure that one out, It’s not as easy as siezing something and fining a large corporation that’s legally operating within the LAW as written.

  8. Great story, too bad it’s not entirely true. The facts are:

    In 2008 Gibson was told by Madagascar that harvesting or exporting ebony was illegal.
    In 2009 Gibson went ahead and bought Madagascar ebony via a 3rd party who told them he could get “grey market” ebony.

    Gibson got caught.

    Maybe fish and wildlife overreaches, I don’t know, but this isn’t one of those cases.

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