Federal agents swooped in on Gibson Guitar Wednesday, raiding factories and offices in Memphis and Nashville, seizing several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. The Feds are keeping mum, but in a statement yesterday Gibson's chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, defended his company's manufacturing policies, accusing the Justice Department of bullying the company. "The wood the government seized Wednesday is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier," he said, suggesting the Feds are using the aggressive enforcement of overly broad laws to make the company cry uncle.
It isn't the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian's ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms."
The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn't be a negligible offense. Peter Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the "equivalent of Africa's blood diamonds." But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.
It isn't just Gibson that is sweating. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.
If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.
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."
The tangled intersection of international laws is enforced through a thicket of paperwork. Recent revisions to 1900's Lacey Act require that anyone crossing the U.S. border declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country. One is under "strict liability" to fill out the paperwork—and without any mistakes.
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."
Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bösendorfers. 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.
Given the risks, why don't musicians just settle for the safety of carbon fiber? Some do—when concert pianist Jeffrey Sharkey moved to England two decades ago, he had Steinway replace the ivories on his piano with plastic.
Still, musicians cling to the old materials. Last year, Dick Boak, director of artist relations for C.F. Martin & Co., complained to Mother Nature News about the difficulty of getting elite guitarists to switch to instruments made from sustainable materials. "Surprisingly, musicians, who represent some of the most savvy, ecologically minded people around, are resistant to anything about changing the tone of their guitars," he said.
You could mark that up to hypocrisy—artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy won't make sacrifices when it comes to their own passions. Then again, maybe it isn't hypocrisy to recognize that art makes claims significant enough to compete with environmentalists' agendas.
[QUOTE][B][U]Gibson Guitar Corp. Responds to Federal Raid[/U][/B]
Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., has responded to the August 24 raid of Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis by the Federal Government. In a press release, Juszkiewicz said: “Gibson is innocent and will fight to protect its rights. Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of ANY wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”
The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents executed the search warrants. “Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”
Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges.
“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”[/QUOTE]
And an (unverified) report I heard: Juszkiewicz is a Republican whose company is in a Right to Work State. C.F. Martin, who utilizes the same suppliers and woods as Gibson, is owned by a Democrat in a Pro-Union State.
Gibson got DOJ raided.
Martin, no raid as yet.
Of course, Gibson recently got nailed over similar laws in re: to their imports from Madagasgar. So no shock they are no on the Federal radar.
And on a related note:
[QUOTE][B][U]Regulation Business, Jobs Booming Under Obama[/U][/B]
Regulatory agencies have seen their combined budgets grow a healthy 16% since 2008, topping $54 billion, according to the annual "Regulator's Budget," compiled by George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis.
That's at a time when the overall economy grew a paltry 5%.
Meanwhile, employment at these agencies has climbed 13% since Obama took office to more than 281,000, while private-sector jobs shrank by 5.6%.
Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute, found that between March 2010 and March 2011 federal regulatory jobs climbed faster than either private jobs or overall government jobs.
Regulatory production is way up, too, if you measure that by the number of rules federal agencies churn out.
The Obama administration imposed 75 new major rules in its first 26 months, costing the private sector more than $40 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation study. "No other president has imposed as high a number or cost in a comparable time period," noted the study's author, James Gattuso.
[QUOTE=PlumberKhan;4131582]Everyone plays guitar.[/QUOTE]
Radiohead reference for the win?
In any event, I play PRS (best guitars ever made) and Gibson's quality (and quality of ideas/progress) has greatly diminished in recent years. Still, I would hate to see them picked on unfairly, and from all the reading I've done on this issue, it appears the State is in the wrong on this one. No laws have been broken, and only Gibson is being investigated and raided.
[QUOTE=Warfish;4132035] from all the reading I've done on this issue, it appears the State is in the wrong on this one. No laws have been broken, and only Gibson is being investigated and raided.[/QUOTE]
what about custom laws being violated if they are using foreign hardwoods? Are we saying that not-knowing is a defense?
[QUOTE=bitonti;4132066]what about custom laws being violated if they are using foreign hardwoods? Are we saying that not-knowing is a defense?[/QUOTE]
I'm saying that no Indian Laws were broken, per India, by Gibson, or by any of the dozens of other guitar manufacturers that use the same sources, importers and suppliers of Indian Rosewood.
In this case, there is nothing to not know. Gibson followed the laws of both India, and the United States. What the Govt. is alleging (unofficially, as no changes have been filed as yet) is that their interpritation of Indian Law trumps India's interpritation of it's own laws.
I'd like to hope this isn't because Gibson pres is a big moutherd moron of a Republican, but given that Gibson uses the same chain of supply as just about every other U.S. Guitar manufacturer, it doesn't look good.
Worse, the Govt. is reportedly telling Gibson they'd be in no touble......if they did all ofthe work on their wood in the nations it is sourced from. I.e. only final assembly would be done in the U.S., i.e. Gibson would no longer be a U.S. made guitar, and most of the existing jobs at Gibson would be lost.
[QUOTE=Warfish;4132500]I'm saying that no Indian Laws were broken, per India, by Gibson, or by any of the dozens of other guitar manufacturers that use the same sources, importers and suppliers of Indian Rosewood.
what about the madagascar ebony... that sounds more severe