As you may have heard, legendary guitar maker Gibson is in some trouble. The issue at hand is India-exported rosewood and ebony, woods used to make guitar parts. Armed federal marshals raided the Gibson factory in Nashville and Memphis, TN, on August 24, seizing “several pallets of wood, electric files and guitars” according to a statement issued by Gibson.
A raid on Gibson in 2009 stemmed from use of materials imported from Madagascar, but the government has yet to file criminal charges based on that or the most recent raid. How does all of this effect you? Well, if you’ve got a guitar made with rosewood or ebony, materials used by many major brands, the letter of the law requires you to have documents proving the wood in your guitar was not illegally harvested or sold. Try and take your axe overseas and you could lose it and pay a fine to boot.
“We’re not in the wrong,” Gibson CEO Henry E. Juszkiewicz told reporters the day after the raid. “We haven’t actually been charged with any wrongdoing, and yet our entire operation has effectively been noticed to be shut down.” The issue at hand is the Lacey Act of 1900, which makes it unlawful to “import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration.” The law was amended in 2008 to include timber.
The trouble for Gibson seems to rest with an amendment to the Lacey Act that says: “The defendant need not be the one who violated the foreign law; the plants or timber, and the products made from the illegal plants or timber, become “tainted” even if someone else commits the foreign law violation. However, the defendant must know, or in the exercise of due care should know, about the underlying violation.” According to Juszkiewicz, the “foreign law” violation in this instance pertains to a law in India that states that it is illegal to export partially finished products, in this case guitar fingerboards, to be completed abroad. No concerns have been raised by the Indian government regarding the exports.
The U.S. government raids resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars in raw materials and guitars. Gibson is vowing to fight until it is all returned and the company is cleared of any wrongdoing. Juszkiewicz, however, refuses to shutter the operation till the storm passes. “I’ve instructed our staff to continue building the product, and I’m taking personal responsibility for that action,” said Juszkiewicz to reporters. A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Juszkiewicz has hired a law firm to find a way to revise the law and bring it to Congress for sponsorship. Gibson has also started a petition to President Obama asking him to reign in the Justice Department. He just might do it too, seeing as the Obamas recognize the worth of a Gibson: In 2009 Michelle Obama gave France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a friendship-solidifying present. The gift? Why a Gibson guitar of course.