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Gibson Justice

by Anthony Silas, attorney at law

Almost a year ago I posted an article about the raid on Gibson’s manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. The Federal Government alleged that Gibson violated the Lacey Act by illegally importing wood from India. This followed a prior raid on Gibson’s facilities regarding wood imported from Madagascar.

After spending more then $2.4 million in legal fees, Gibson decided to settle the case rather than continue fighting. Gibson posted the settlement on its websitehere

In the settlement, Gibson agreed to pay $300,000 in fines and $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Additionally, Gibson agreed to strengthen their compliance, bookkeeping, and internal controls to ensure compliance with the Lacey Act.

The Department of Justice agreed that it would not pursue criminal charges. In an important admission, the Department of Justice also acknowledged “that certain questions and inconsistencies now exist regarding the tariff classification of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks pursuant to the Indian government’s Foreign Trade Policy.” Gibson will be allowed to continue importing wood from India, and, the government will give Gibson 60 days notice if there is a change in understanding of the law.

In somewhat related news, Taylor Guitar Company apparently decided it would be easier to comply with the Lacey Act if they completely controlled the supply chain. Bob Taylor recently reported on their website that he purchased an ebony mill in Cameroon. According to Mr. Taylor, Cameroon is the last place on Earth where you can legally harvest ebony. Along with the purchase of the mill Mr. Taylor acquired the mill’s logging permits. Mr. Taylor now controls 75% of the permits to harvest ebony in Cameroon.

The settlement of the Gibson case still does not answer the question many musicians have about traveling with their instruments out of the country.  As written, the Lacey Act can be enforced on personal travel items such as guitars.  Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that it is not focused on personal items, however, that could change.  See the Faq’s listed here.  A bill has been introduced in Congress that would exclude any instrument made before May 22, 2008 from the Lacey Act.  H.R. 3210 is titled Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act (RELIEF) and can be foundhere.

As a thought, maybe guitar manufactures should start providing a detailed description of each wood component in the guitar so that the purchaser can easily complete  any customs form when leaving or entering the country with their instrument.  It is hard enough making a living in the music business to have to worry about losing your instrument because you incorrectly completed some government form.

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