Anyone remember the feds raiding the Gibson Guitar factories in Memphis and Nashville this past August? Well, they did, and between those raids and other raids in 2009; the feds have seized over $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony, and finished guitars from Gibson. These hardwoods are prized for their tonal properties and strength and are used for Gibson’s fretboards on their guitars. Gibson’s factories have remained open, but have done so under great difficulty due to the fact that the feds took most of the company’s raw materials.
The U.S. Justice Department has declined to comment on the case but have provided information regarding the Lacey Act, which is aimed at curbing illegal trafficking in wildlife, fish and plant products, and illegally obtained lumber. A letter issued by the Justice and Interior department officials stated the following:
“By prohibiting trafficking in wood illegally harvested overseas, the Lacey Act prohibits companies from undercutting law-abiding U.S. wood products companies … by trading in artificially inexpensive raw materials that have been illegally harvested from foreign forests.”
Gibson’s CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, states that Gibson Guitar uses a small fraction of the world’s tropical hardwoods, compared to that used for furniture and flooring, and because it uses so little it can use it sustainably. He also explained how his company has been a leader in this area with its line of SmartWood instruments, using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. He went on to state:
“The issue here is not illegal logging or some conservation abuse … The laws that are being identified by the Department of Justice have to do with protectionism by the country of origin, keeping work in that country and therefore not allowing something that isn’t that value-added to be exported.”
Gibson has filed suit in federal court in Nashville to recover all of their seized materials, but that suit has been stayed while the investigation continues. In the meantime, Juszkiewicz has been working on changing the law. He says,
“I believe in the intent of the law … but I do believe that the way it’s currently written allows what’s happening to me to happen to other companies, and that’s wrong.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering… Luckily for musicians, a letter from the government in response to members of Congress on the Gibson case stated that those who unknowingly possess an instrument containing wood that was taken illegally “do not have criminal exposure.”