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Up until now Brazilian rosewood already in the U.S. was legal to buy, sell, use, and ship interstate even without documentation (much old lumber and many vintage guitars lack paperwork, since it wasn’t previously required). But as of June 26th, as a CITES Appendix I species (like elephant ivory) and in conjunction with the new total ban on all elephant ivory, it will become a felony to buy or sell anything containing Brazilian rosewood unless it has proper documentation (http://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/regulation-part23-use-after-im...). To qualify for the exception: “If the [rosewood] was lawfully imported…before the species was listed…you may continue to use the [rosewood]…provided you can clearly demonstrate (using written records or other documentary evidence) that your [rosewood] was imported prior to the CITES listing, with no restrictions on its use after import. If you are unable to clearly demonstrate that this exception applies, the [rosewood] may be used only for noncommercial purposes.” Good luck to you all trying to get acceptable paperwork for old wood stocks and all those guitars out there...

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Could be serious

Guitar Frets: Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear

[FELDEN]The Commercial Appeal/Zuma Press

Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pore through the workshop at the Gibson Guitar factory on Wednesday morning.

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.

Tennessee Reps Prepare Bill to Protect Guitar Owners After Gibson Raid

Tennessee lawmakers alarmed over a recent federal raid on Gibson Guitar factories in their state plan to introduce a bill aimed at protecting instrument owners from being punished under the same law that snared the legendary company.

Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., on Thursday plan to introduce a proposal to amend the so-called Lacey Act. The expansive law makes it illegal to buy, sell or travel with certain wood products, and requires owners to carry specific documentation for others. The lawmakers say this threatens musicians, antiquedealers and others who travel with products containing rare plant or wood materials. 

Related Video

 

Guitar Industry Jobs Threatened After Exotic Wood Seizure

Following the raid at Gibson guitars, the entire U.S. guitar industry, and the thousands of jobs it provides, feels threatened

The amendments would "grandfather" all instruments and furniture made before May 22, 2008, when the law was last updated to cover exotic woods, so owners of those products would not face prosecution. 

"Innocent buyers of such products before 2008 should not be punished," a statement released by the lawmakers' office said. 

The proposal comes after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Homeland Security agents raided Gibson locations in late August. The agencies took away 24 pallets of Indian rosewood and ebony, as well as a number of guitars and computer files. 

The federal agents' contention was that Gibson had illegally imported the exotic wood, which is used to make fretboards and bridges for their high-end instruments, from India. The sticking point, though, was over which country had done the work on the wood. 

While federal officials say the wood -- as imported -- is illegal, had it been finished by workers in India, it would have been legal to import. The wood itself was not banned, just the manufacturing process. 

The amendment would also try to clarify portions of the act that require compliance with foreign laws, calling on the government to put together a database of all relevant laws. Plus the amendment would reduce the paperwork necessary to import and export musical instruments and furniture manufactured before that 2008 date. 

Currently, musicians who travel out of the country with vintage instruments that include exotic woods face seizure of their instruments and heavy fines if they don't have the proper paperwork when they return to the U.S. 

Country music star Vince Gill released a statement Thursday touting the proposal. 

"From the perspective of guitar players, collectors and lovers of old instruments, I wholeheartedly support this bill," he said. 

and whats wrong with home grown?

Jim: "What's wrong with home grown" woods is that millions of existing instruments and furniture of all types containing Brazilian rosewood (some of them hundreds of years old) will suddenly be robbed of all their collectible/investment value, become uninsurable (without any legal market replacement value to insure for), and all because they'll be illegal to ever buy or sell. Many of these legally purchased or inherited items were found and lovingly restored or cared for by people who not only enjoy owning/using them but who were counting on being able to sell them later to help fund their retirement years.

These new ivory and wood bans will hugely impact legitimate vintage dealers, some of whom may not survive the next couple of years. Many small luthiers have also heavily invested in old and legitimately imported Brazilian rosewood. But since pre-ban woods didn't require having or saving the type of paperwork currently demanded, these old inventories now risk becoming totally illegal to trade and thus worthless. In all good faith these woods (just like old guitars) often were intended not only for making instruments but also as an appreciable investment to help fund an aging luthier's meager retirement. What had been legal is suddenly criminalized: previously, wood already inside the U.S. was assumed to be innocent until proven guilty; now, that same wood is considered illegal unless it can be proven otherwise.

USDA OKs musical instruments for travel under Lacey Act

June 01, 2013  By Randy Lewis
From: LA Times

Musicians can breathe a little easier while traveling, with the submission to Congress of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report addressing provisions of the Lacey Act that protect endangered wildlife, fish and plants. The legislation had been causing snafus for musicians carrying vintage instruments made of materials protected by the act.

A Gibson 1960 Les Paul guitar is shown. Musicians can breathe a little easier while traveling, with the submission to Congress of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report addressing provisions of the Lacey Act that protect endangered wildlife, fish and plants. The legislation had been causing snafus for musicians carrying vintage instruments made of materials protected by the act.

Since a major amendment to the century-old act was passed in 2008, vintage instruments as well as newer ones made from old stockpiles of exotic woods have come under increased scrutiny by customs officials when musicians enter or re-enter the U.S. with those instruments.

But the report addressing implementation of the amendments has in large part taken musical instruments out of the mix of problematic products made from endangered plants.

“There has … been considerable attention to issues surrounding the date of manufacture and the requirement that products manufactured after the date of enactment require compliance with the Act, even if they were made from plants harvested before the law’s enactment,” the report states. “As an example of this issue, [the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has heard regularly from luthiers who manufacture artisan stringed instruments.

“Many of them have stores of tropical hardwoods that were imported into the United States before the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act were enacted,” the report notes, “and they are concerned about the applicability of the Lacey Act declaration requirements and enforcement provisions to musical instruments made out of such wood.

“If the wood is made into a musical instrument and the owner of the instrument travels internationally and re-enters the country with the instrument as part of his or her personal baggage,” the report continues, “that owner would not need to submit a Lacey Act declaration for the instrument upon entry into the United States because APHIS is not requiring the submission of a Lacey Act declaration for such informal entries.

“It is also important to note,” the report states, “that both [the Department of Justice] and [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]  have issued statements that citizens traveling with their musical instruments are not an enforcement priority.”

Gibson Guitars, which had been charged with violating the Lacey Act over wood imported from India and Magadascar (the charges were dropped last year when the company agreed to pay a $300,000 fine) tweeted on Friday: “Whew! Finally! Report to Congress gives OK to traveling with guitars."

"Prior to this report," Gibson posted on its website, "it was unclear what documentation was needed, as well as what penalties might be levied against musicians for traveling with guitars. That worry has now been put to rest.”

The Lacey Act was first passed in 1900, significantly amended in 1981 and in 2008 was further amended by the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly known as the Farm Bill.

Instrument passports have been available in the U.S. since June of 2013 (http://www.fretboardjournal.com/blog/have-guitar-passport-will-travel).  But, there has so far been no agreement or formal recognition by other countries that these passports will be honored, because foreign laws can be much different or in direct conflict with U.S. requirements.  The E.U. restrictions are even more Draconian than in the U,S., and there have been many instances of personal instruments being seized -- it's true that only a few have been kept and destroyed, but travel can be seriously delayed and/or heavy fines levied before an instrument is finally released.  Even if travel with an instrument in and out of the U.S. won't require paperwork, other countries do require it and each country's document requirements need to be dealt with separately.  Finally, regardless of statements to the contrary from the DOI and USFWS, many personal instruments are being stopped and challenged at U.S. borders -- what the government says and what it actually does can be two different things.  Be warned...

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