Feds Raid Gibson; Musicians Now Worried The Gov't Will Take Their Guitars Away

from the norwegian-wood dept

Last week, the feds apparently raided the premises of Gibson Guitar, searching for “illegal wood” used in those guitars. Apparently, the government and Gibson have been involved in an ongoing lawsuit for some time, after the feds seized some guitars in 2009 and a case commenced against the wood in the guitar (yes, against the wood, since it was one of those “in rem” cases): “United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.” Apparently, now the government is taking it up a notch, and while there is a grandfather clause, if you get your paperwork just marginally wrong and happen to own a Gibson guitar with illegal wood, the government could seize it and fine you. Apparently, a bunch of musicians are reasonably afraid, and some suggest not taking any such guitar out of the country if you ever plan on bringing it back:

John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says “there’s a lot of anxiety, and it’s well justified.” Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, “I don’t go out of the country with a wooden guitar.”


It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of? If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory? “Even if you have no knowledge?despite Herculean efforts to obtain it?that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever,” Prof. Thomas has written. “Oh, and you’ll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration.”

And since this is a “strict liability” situation, asking the government for help in making sure you’re being legal may actually make things worse. Much worse:

Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique B?sendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork?which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.

There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys. But Mr. Vieillard didn’t have his paperwork straight when two-dozen federal agents came calling.

Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.

I’m all for not destroying the environment — and if Gibson is really doing something bad, then that should be dealt with. But some of these other situations just seem flat out ridiculous. Don’t the feds have more important things to do?

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Comments on “Feds Raid Gibson; Musicians Now Worried The Gov't Will Take Their Guitars Away”

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Akiva (user link) says:

Clearly not

The Federal government is the ONLY growth industry in the U.S.A. right now. Think of all the happy citizens now employed as enforcement officers. Would you put them on the unemployment line (for 99 weeks)? I say NO! Enforce every spitting on the sidewalk ordinance! Shut down every improperly licensed childhood lemonade stand! Be a country who enforces every law, regulation and ordinance to the very end, however close it may be and being brought faster!

Oblate (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And of course any songs recorded using those instruments must be seized. And any other songs created while the criminal (‘artist’) is in possession of the illegal material. And all copies of cd’s, and mp3s containing those songs. And the cd players or computer hard drives they are located in/on. And the rest of the stereo systems, computers, or other equipment (i.e. cars with cd players in them) contributing to the infringement. Or would that be crazy?

Anonymous Coward says:

Basically Gibson legally imported some wood from India that was legally cut down and the non-profit industry watch group Forest Stewardship Council said was legit. Gibson violated an Indian law that states that the wood must be finished by Indian workers.

So, the US government is now the business of protecting the jobs in India while hurting the jobs in America?

bordy (profile) says:

When ICE started seizing websites at the behest of certain players within the entertainment industry, I started playing a game when government agencies made headlines with actions such as these. I ask: “Is there a competing industry/lobby/company prodding the feds into action?”

I have no idea if such an exercise could be useful here, but perhaps someone with the applicable background can help?

gorf says:

resource protection

Tropical hardwoods like ebony are excellent for making musical instruments, and are in high demand. These very dense woods take many decades to grow to a suitable size, and are becoming a scarce resource. Cocus wood, which was favoured by 19th century flute makers is now almost extinct. Someone has to ensure that these resources are harvested sustainably. I’m not sure it should be at border patrol, but where else? They already have established protocols for such work, and we don’t hear too much moaning about their similar efforts to control the import of ivory, or the export of bear feet, for example.

AG Wright (profile) says:

Re: resource protection

Gorph, What you didn’t get in this whole thing is that Gibson is one of the companies that ONLY uses wood from renewable and supportable sources. They really are one of the good guys in the industry.
They have bent over backwards to follow the law and now, without a change in the law.
As a person that has multiple stringed instruments ranging from 5 to 45 years old I have no slightest idea how old the components of my instruments are.
Is the nut of that 45 year old guitar bone or ivory? I don’t know. I have no way of knowing. I bought the instrument 20 years ago in a pawn shop. It’s my main guitar but I can’t carry it out of the country, if I ever needed to travel with the laws in the current state.

Scooters (profile) says:

Dear artists, how does it feel?

Notice: My post will appear to be trolling, but rest assured, it is not. This is another example of issues going beyond the scope the law intended and does nothing more than hurt those affected by the “longer arm of the law”.

Did you see I wrote “longer” and not “long”? Every day, artists sit back and do nothing over the laws which are formed regarding their rights. Now, when another law now targets them, they now stand up and speak their mind?

Do these artists not see the hypocrisy with this? Where’s Nina and her new strip? Where are the editorials about the rights of wood? Where are the ACs posts regarding why this law is beneficial to the environment?

None of it can be found. Instead, we get stories of people “worried” they’ll lose their musical instrument because a piece of legislation now gives law enforcement this right.

Poetic justice or karma. Take your pick. I feel bad for those who genuinely have this fear, but realize this is the world I live in, when one day, a subpoena may grace my front door because someone believes I’m infringing the works created from those guitars, whether they be in mp3 format or the background music of the latest movie.

Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right, wasn’t he, when discussing security for liberties.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Dear artists, how does it feel?

a piece of legislation now gives law enforcement this right.

Laws do not give the government or its agencies “rights” – it only grants them powers.

Rights are held either by individuals or states. Neither the federal government, nor states, no matter what powers they are granted, can violate those rights. Powers can be taken away by other laws, or by the courts if they are impeding the rights of the states or individuals.

Copywight watcher (profile) says:

Game of Illuminati(Steve Jackson)
The “Debbie Gibbson Gitar Group” attack Paper jamz You-tuber with ‘Copywight’ lawyers. Paper Jamer counterattacks with enviro Feds against DGGG for illegal wood in gitars. Unfortunately PJYT destroyed because of illegal wood in copy of gitar and Beatles song used in YouTube video.
(Libertarian groups strangely do not add or subtract from this)

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is about using errors or inconsistencies in government paperwork to scare people into paying fines. It has nothing to do with environmental protection initiatives.

And you should be second guessing those initiatives. While you protect some hardwoods in a foreign land, up here in Canada, Alberta is being scarred by oil sands development.

How much environmental damage has been done in China to mass produce cheap goods available at your local Walmart or Target?

FTG and their NWO (profile) says:

It’s not about environment at this point, when most of the desks in the the “elite” offices are made of rosewood, ebony and other delicate hardwoods, as well as Gold… but I guess we can overlook that little piece of history, since it’s for our “Masters of Destruction”. Don’t get it twisted, it’s all about money. That’s it…period. Think I’m Lying? Do some research…and while you’re at it, open your mind.

Beta (profile) says:

a silly question

I know that laws don’t have to make sense, but…

How does this “paperwork” work? If I have papers that show that the ebony bridge of my guitar is legal, what happens when I have the bridge replaced by an unethical luthier in Lithuania? Does the certificate crumble into ashes? Is there a serial number etched into the legitimate bridge, perhaps with a cryptographic hash of the grain pattern?

Is it really necessary that the papers be, well, papers? If Gibson keeps its supply chain in order, couldn’t it provide downloadable compliance certificates, by serial number? Or maybe by model and year?

And is it really necessary that the papers describe where and when the wood was harvested and carved into a bridge? Wouldn’t it be enough to say that it’s legal? The only purpose I can see for maintaining all of that information is to allow previously allowed instruments to be made “illegally manufactured” with the stroke of a pen, which sounds to me like retroactive law (“ex post facto“), which is unconstitutional. It also serves the purpose of making the law harder to comply with, but I usually attribute that to incompetence rather than malice.

(P.S. Sorry, I don’t often get to use the word “luthier”, and I got a little carried away.)

ScytheNoire (profile) says:

It was another lobbying effort

The real reason behind this is that Gibson’s top market competitor is C.F. Martin & Co who is a Democrat supporter who has contributed to their campaigns. Thus, when Martin asked his politician friends to go raid Gibson for X reason, they did so, much like ICE with the RIAA/MPAA. Of course, Martin uses the same wood in their guitars, but they weren’t raided.

So, as we see, if you contribute to the right politicians, whether you want to call it campaign contributions or lobbying (it’s all bribery), you can then use the US Government as your own personal police force to go after your competitors.

The US Government, they are for sale.

D says:

Look out, here come the gestapo

Well it looks like the Feds are really becoming the gestapo. They can enter your house and sieze anything without a warrant and label you, a law abiding citizen, a criminal. With this precedent, ANYTHING can be made illegal EX POST FACTO.

Your house is made out of illegal materials. The government is going to sieze it. Your clothes are made out of illegal materials. Kiss those goodbye. The key here is EX POST FACTO.

Making something illegal after the fact is in itself illegal. The criminals are the government, not some guy who happens to own a 1960’s vintage Les Paul. Anyone who will argue that the Les Paul owner is a criminal is an ignorant Facist. You are the new Nazi’s. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You are being led by vicious people who are using you to their own end. The shame you will bring upon yourselves will last generations. Also, the evil people leading you will cast you aside when the time is right. You are simply their tools. You are all going to be labeled criminals of the worst kind. Wake up before it is too late.

Power Trip says:

Look both ways before crossing the street...

Meanwhile, POTUS now is spending his time as a weather person, advising people to obey authority re: rain and winds. I’d rather he spend his time on the “three letter” issue (jobs) that his VP talked about before the last election. These guys will go after low hanging fruit every time. It is important for them to look like they are doing something, anything, no matter that what (it doesn’t have to make sense). Yo, Mr. Guv Man, how about a new WPA program? (It would only have to take a little bitty portion of the civilian contractor/defense/foreign aid budget.) Stop the war against the American people and businesses (hey, we LOST the War on Poverty!)

Anonymous Coward says:

But some of these other situations just seem flat out ridiculous. Don’t the feds have more important things to do?

In Fact this is what the Feds do for a living, everyone is guilty of one federal crime or another, from the baby to grandma.

This is the reason that the founding fathers originally made the federal government weak. With the states having the power to police it’s borders and people.

Wickard v. Filburn and Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority both have been used to destroy state power and increase the power of the federal government.

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