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Environmental Enforcement Agents Targeting Guitars 379

tetrahedrassface writes "According to the Wall Street Journal, Federal agents again raided guitar maker Gibson this past week, seizing several pallets of wood and computer documents. At the heart of the issue is the wood that is being used in guitars and whether or not it comes from sustainable sources. The company insists it is being harassed and made to 'cry uncle' to the government's enforcement laws. The article notes that exotic fret and tone woods are protected in order to prevent the equivalent of 'blood diamond like trade,' but the ramifications now extend to guitar owners. If you play a vintage guitar, or a hand-built guitar made of old stock woods that were legally obtained years ago, you better not fly with it. 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.'"
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Environmental Enforcement Agents Targeting Guitars

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  • It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:48PM (#37243120)
    You know, now that the government has dealt with all of the environmental problems that are of greater scale and importance.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      As a side note - don't come to Sweden wearing shoes of crocodile skin or clothes of other endangered animals - even if it's inherited from your great grandmother.

      • Crocodiles are endangered?

      • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Interesting)

        by INT_QRK ( 1043164 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:52PM (#37244044)
        As the number of laws and regulations continue to grow exponentially, at some point we will all become violators of something. When we reach that critical mass it will become impossible to enforce everything without bringing society to a standstill. At that point, government authorities will be compelled to focus on deciding what to enforce and when, based primarily on perceived need to reign in those "loose cannons" who either make too much of a fuss, fail to tow the line, or beg to be made an example. If this seems just a tad paranoid, maybe it just because I'm feeling a little stabby today. No worries.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Matheus ( 586080 )

          Sorry to be the one to tell you but...

          We past that point a LONG LONG time ago.

    • by bieber ( 998013 )
      Because we all know that everything in life is a checklist you have to complete in descending order of importance.

      Give me a break. There are unsolved murders in my city, but you know what? I still expect the cops to respond if I find my house has been broken into, even though they haven't solved all the problems of greater scale and importance. In real life, we can do more than one thing at a time, and "There are more important things to do" is not an excuse to put off every task in life that doesn't ma
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Yessir, I live in Newark, NJ and I am glad that they cleaned up [] the Passaic River [] and got rid of all of those other Superfund sites [] in the Garden State.

      BRB, going for a swim with the three-eyed fishes.

  • LAND OF THE FREE? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:51PM (#37243152) Homepage Journal

    Innocent until proven guilty?
    Burden of evidence on the accuser?

    Hope you enjoyed the "War on Drugs". Seizure logic is now your new normal.

    • by Kenja ( 541830 )
      Proof of guilt is why they gather evidence.
      • by trum4n ( 982031 )
        Shutting down an American company is helping no one. They will build them in Mexico if this keeps up. Then what? American history and jobs are at stake.
        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          Shutting down an American company is helping no one. They will build them in Mexico if this keeps up.

          So rather than 'no one' it would definitely seem to be helping Mexicans.

          I'm sure that foreign CEOs cry themselves to sleep when they see the US government shutting down US companies to 'save the environment'.

          Actually, maybe they do; with tears of laughter.

        • Building guitars in Mexico would be pointless - to sell them in the USA, they would still need to cross the border, and so would be subject to the same import regulations, and so would still need to have the correct paperwork filled out.
          • There are loads of guitars built in Mexico, the imported into the USA. The exotic woods used by guitar makers cause deforestation in sensitive areas.

            But the advice of not bringing your old guitar back into the company after a trip is total bullshit and a scare tactic to defend Gibson (maybe Fender, Taylor, and others, too). They should be ashamed.

          • That's OK. Keep this going and - of course - there will be no American market to afford such things. Big business has already planned thing along these lines, for some time now.

            There are new, Asian middle-classes to exploit, for a couple of decades. It's called "Corporate Crop Rotation". It keeps populations insecure and dependent, rather than empowered and questioning.

            Meanwhile, we can play on ANYTHING!

          • Yes, but it's a lot easier to bribe a Mexican official to give a record of properly imported wood.

      • by RKThoadan ( 89437 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:15PM (#37243480)

        I believe the point is that it should be the states responsibility to prove that the guitar is made with illegally harvested wood, not my responsibility to prove that it isn't. For the most part, customs/immigration has never really operated on any kind of presumption of innocence and the current climate isn't likely to make that any better.

    • by tonywong ( 96839 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:29PM (#37243702) Homepage
      It is even more screwed up than what the summary implies.

      This isn't even a compliance issue. The U.S. government objects to the importation of unfinished wood (raw imports), while Gibson has imported finished wood from India. However, the U.S. contends that the wood is not finished ENOUGH, although the Indian government is quite satisfied with the paperwork on their end (no objection and considers the wood properly finished).

      So although all the paperwork is technically in order, the US government is on a massive fishing expedition to force Gibson into 'compliance' even though they haven't broken any laws.
      Indian article here:

      This reminds me of the way the government has sent those mortgage liars to jail:

      Pop the little guys because all the big fish are too hard to catch. Government at work for you.
    • Asset forfeiture (Score:5, Informative)

      by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:44PM (#37243902) Homepage

      Forget it - this is asset forfeiture. The feds already raided Gibson once, back in 2009. [] They took a lot of ebony, but never filed charges. Gibson is still fighting the asset forfeiture case, and the burden of proof is exactly wrong: Gibson must prove their innocence of any wrong-doing. The feds want to keep the stuff; it would be auctioned off, and they would get to keep the proceeds. One of the theories explaining this second raid is that the feds are pissed that Gibson hasn't just rolled over on the first case.

      Asset forfeiture is perverse: you aren't charged with anything at all - your *property* is. The Gibson case is entitled "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms". There is no presumption of innocence, because your property isn't a person, and anyway isn't being charged with a crime. The fact that this is naked theft is apparently beside the point - it is a very lucrative racket for law enforcement agencies at all levels.

      • Exactly my point.

        The precedent for these "laws" were set by the so-called "war on drugs".

        When a few people claimed that that this was the first step on a slippery slope towards fascism, they were decried as shrill, bleeding-hearts. The mainstream-media equivalent of being "Godwinned" into humiliation or silence.

  • I thought Matthew Broderick already took care of these guys years ago? Did they get out of prison?

  • Gibson Forums (Score:5, Informative)

    by cultiv8 ( 1660093 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:58PM (#37243260) Homepage
    Here's [] the conversation on the Gibson forums if anyone is interested...
    • Re:Gibson Forums (Score:5, Informative)

      by EvilAlphonso ( 809413 ) <> on Monday August 29, 2011 @03:54PM (#37245704) Journal

      Not mentioned on the forums:

      • The wood was 10mm boards declared as 6mm veneer to clear customs in the US. Veneer is peeled with minimal waste, boards are sawed with large waste (kerf + parts of the trunks with not enough material for full boards). 6mm veneer of the species in question is legal to import, 10mm boards aren't due to Lacey act.
      • The export declaration for Indian customs stated that the shipment was finished parts of musical instruments instead of raw material. The finished parts are perfectly legal to ship, the raw material in the form of 10mm boards isn't (anything above 6mm veneer is illegal to export).
      • Gibson tried to conceal both the destination and the source of the shipment by going through several several middlemen (one AG in Germany, one company in California, one person in Tennessee).
      • The shipment was caught by customs when entering the US, then released to find out who was the final consignee of the wood.

      For more info: The Affidavit (PDF warning) [].

  • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:00PM (#37243300)

    Seriously, this is absolutely ridiculous. Arresting someone, fining them, and taking their guitar because they can't trace every last component it's made of? Or fining someone $17,000 with clearly grandfather ivory keys (which everyone acknowledges are legitimate to own) simply because his paperwork was a little out of order? FFS, we wonder why our world is so fucked up when artists (some actually talented people) are forced to put up with shit like that. Hell, I bet taking a Stradivarius out of the country would probably get it "seized" and a major fine levied on you, simply because it would be absolutely impossible to trace all its components.

    All this in the name of "environmentalism." Why the hell is a guitar or antique musical instrument even considered a piece of "flora or fauna" anyways? Are we gonna have to register cotton shirts next, to make sure slavery wasn't involved in the manufacture? As a bit of a musician myself (I play violin as a hobby), these sorts of things really piss me off. Laws shouldn't be created to force people to prove the legality of what they are carrying. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? In this case, it looks like you need paperwork proving you're innocence or you are automatically guilty. Also, I don't think the wood used in guitars is a major contributor to deforestation. In fact, I think that ranks right down there as the least possible thing they could worry about. What's next, making sure pipes are made of sustainable sources of wood?

    Sure, I know poaching of elephants is a major problem. This sort of BS isn't helping the cause any though.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:07PM (#37243392)

      FFS, we wonder why our world is so fucked up when artists (some actually talented people) are forced to put up with shit like that.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't many of the most famous musical 'artists' been demanding that we must 'do something' for the environment for decades now?

      Well, now we're doing something, and they should be happy.

      • They said "do something to help the environment" not "do something that make it look like your helping the environment without actually producing any measurable benefit". Is there an phrase equivalent to security theater for environmentalism? Greenwashing maybe?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:55PM (#37244086)

      Or fining someone $17,000 with clearly grandfather ivory keys (which everyone acknowledges are legitimate to own) simply because his paperwork was a little out of order?

      Saying that the guy had his paperwork "a little out of order" is disingenuous. The person in question was trying to import 11 pianos, and had declared that there was no Ivory on them. However, that was only true because he had removed the Ivory keys and hidden them in his luggage, where they were uncovered by customs inspectors. And not only that, his company had asked officials about the importation requirements prior to this, so he clearly knew what he was doing, and was caught red-handed.

  • by CPNABEND ( 742114 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:01PM (#37243304) Homepage
    With everything that's screwed up in this country, how did this bubble up to the top of the list?
    • Low hanging fruit. It's a risk free action that yields results of said policy and justifies their existence to continue their nazi activities. Basically, the same reasons that the SWAT team goes after a pimply faced script kiddie with a gun pointed to the back of his head point-blank. Ya, tough guys! Rawwwrrrrr!!!

  • by anlprb ( 130123 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:06PM (#37243372)

    It seems as if for years, you have been using the BanHammer of the Government to force others to comply with your agenda of increased control and profits. Now, that you have gotten what you asked for, why are you unhappy? The environmentalists are getting their agenda pushed by the government, just like yours. Why on Earth would you be surprised. Ohh that's right, you artsy types haven't heard of the law of unintended consequences. Congratulations, welcome to the club of people who realize Government interference in everything isn't a good thing. I hope you enjoy getting what you asked for.

    Everyone else.

  • Wait a minute.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:13PM (#37243460)
    So, are you telling me it's now easier to fly with a firearm than it is with an acoustic guitar?
  • This is about India not wanting manufacturing jobs exported not about environmentalism.

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:17PM (#37243538)

    Fact: Suspected illegal materials seized from manufacturer.
    Article speculation: guitars will be seized by Nazi enforcers from individuals.

    Warning flag that article is inflammatory: use of "artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy"

    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

      Fact: Anyone can be suspected of ANYTHING.
      Fact: These laws are not created to protect. They are created to control and convict. They are not expected to be followed. Create enough laws and everyone is a criminal.

    • Fact: Suspected illegal materials seized from manufacturer. Article speculation: guitars will be seized by Nazi enforcers from individuals.

      Warning flag that article is inflammatory: use of "artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy"

      They coulda been a little more subtle with that. The WSJ has always had a slant, but they were better at hiding it before Rupert.

    • Fact: Suspected illegal materials seized from manufacturer.
      Article speculation: guitars will be seized by Nazi enforcers from individuals.

      What's is even worse is the level of manufactured internet outrage that drowns out any factual content. Try to do a search to find some unbiased information and facts and 99% of what you find are the initial biased articles and the massive flood of propaganda fed from the biased outlets to all their minion blog sites.

      And the sad part, slashdot is becoming part of this lib

  • by geoffrobinson ( 109879 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:19PM (#37243568) Homepage

    Let's ignore for a second that the government cares about how an Indian government interprets and Indian law for an American domestic manufacturer. Here's the utter stupidity...

    If you have something like ivory or some rare wood, if you make the value of it next to nothing, legitimate businesses will have no incentive to have that resource conserved.

    Let's say you are in some rainforest and you have this really rare tree that is valuable for its wood. If legitimate businesses can use it and it has value, you can find a way to harvest it and make sure more grows. If it has no value, you plow the thing over and grow some crops.

    The same goes for different animal species as well.

    Do you think elephants will stop being hunted because of ivory bans? If you allow a certain percentage of elephants to be culled, I'm pretty sure a group of people will make sure there are plenty of elephants.

    • Like most Economists, you're assuming that people make long-term, rational decisions when deciding about purchases or actions. They don't. They mostly go for the immediate fix, for the immediate pleasure rather than the delayed one, etc.

      And that's even ignoring the fact that in some situations, even culling a small percentage of the population puts the entire species at risk.

  • Hearts are in the right place. Brains are fused with anus' though. Douche-bags. So what? Now I have to get a stupid Carbon-Fiber guitar for travelling? Seriously, if some airport security dick took exception with one of my (new) wooden guitars. I'd probably smash it over their stupid face and spend a few decades in prison over it. I'm so tired of stupid people. The stupid, it burns!!
  • by LocalH ( 28506 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:24PM (#37243634) Homepage

    This seizure suit that I read was filed highlights one of the ways that they do an end run around the Constitution. The suit isn't "United States v Gibson Guitar Corporation", it's "United States v. Ebony Wood In Various Forms". They don't file suit against the legal entity, but they file suit against the property to be seized itself. Someone please explain to me how that's Constitutional, seeing that inanimate wood cannot defend against itself.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Since you are obviously expert enough in Constitutional law to believe this lawsuit is unconstitutional, it surprises me that you have never heard of in rem jurisdiction, which is one of the oldest concepts in Anglo-American common law and naval law.

  • Not exactly... (Score:5, Informative)

    by joeyblades ( 785896 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:27PM (#37243674)

    The feds claim against Gibson is not that they are using wood from non sustainable sources, as stated above. Gibson has clear documentation showing that it is.The feds maintain that the issue is that the wood was not "finished" by Indian workers, as (possibly) required by Indian law.

    Incidentally, the Indian government is not involved.

  • If they were talking about an endangered animal, particularly an easily recognisable and cute species, I'm sure that quite a few people would be changing their tone. The problem is that trees just don't have that huggable demeanour and very few people could tell the difference between a cherry and a peach tree unless it was bearing fruit. I also think that people have no conception of how long it takes a lot of plants to mature to the point where they can be harvested. The trees in your yard may grow fro

    • by LocalH ( 28506 )

      Nature "endangers" plenty of animals without our assistance at all. Who's fighting for those animals?

  • 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.

    I guess I should read the full Lacey Act as amended, because I could be traveling with a lot of flora and fauna. My clothes, luggage, shoes, food . . . I assume that my shirt is made from non-endangered cotton and not something else, but I sure can't prove that. I could show the label, if it's not worn off, but I have no documentation of the provenance of the fabric. Are those pearl buttons? Endangered abalone? A coral necklace?

    And that's before worrying about the laws of every other country -- which might

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:59PM (#37244156) Journal

    CF Martin IV, a well-known contributor to Obama and the DNC, also makes guitars from Indian Rosewood, and is one of Gibson's main competitors in the acoustic guitar space.

    The CEO of Gibson is a vocal republican running a non-union shop.

    Gibson is being targeted. CF Martin is not.

    You do the math.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @02:12PM (#37244348)

    Ebony is one of the slowest growing woods in the world, and it's absolutely central to the incredibly fragile and unique Madagascar ecosystem. As long as there is a illegal market in it, somebody will have the incentive to permanently destroy that ecosystem. What's worse, too few will have the incentive to start sustainable ebony plantations. Somebody needs to close the loopholes, flash some badges and make the punishment hurt, or we will completely destroy Madagascar's forests before we transition to sustainable ebony. We need strict laws if we are to make the transition now.

    I can understand why people complain about documentation regarding older instruments, but if there were no such requirement, anybody could just say "Oh, this guitar? Yeah, it's old, the laws don't apply to it!" - which would be a gigantic loophole. Authorities need to have the right to say "Prove that it's old". It sounds like this system needs streamlining, but it's absolutely right that we have it in place.

    By the way, I own a bass guitar with an ebony fingerboard and I'm certainly not an opponent of musicians who want the finest instruments. But I'm also an environmentalist, and I don't want musicians to be responsible for destroying the third world that they never visit.

  • by sdguero ( 1112795 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @03:40PM (#37245548)
    Clark Foam, which made 85% of the foam blanks for all surfboards closed shop after years of pressure from the EPA and repeated raids/fines by CA and federal authorities. It was big deal at the time (2005): []

    Back in 2005, the average price for a new surfboard jumped about 50% (~$400 to ~$600 a board) and that price hasn't come down on anything but generic shapes (i.e. Costco surfboards) since. Now our surfboard blanks are lower quality, come from companies in China, who have no qualms about dumping toxic chemicals into the environment, and they cost about the same because there is no competition other than a few colluding companies. A LOT of independent American surfboard shapers (aka small business owners) have been pushed out because they can't get blanks reliably in small numbers like they could directly from Clark in the past.

    As I recall, when Clark shutdown he basically said he'd been dealing with these people (government authorities) for 30 years and couldn't continue to carry this industry on his shoulders or his bank account anymore. The US economy will suffer, likely forever, and we will lose art and innovation, but it wasn't his burden to carry alone. And he walked away. Probably surfing on a remote island paradise somewhere...

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