Saw this weird story about Gibson Guitars thanks to Messiah College film studies professor Reid Perkins-Buzo. I actually heard that something was going on from a friend who works at one of their factories. Here is a snippet from the Wall Street Journal for background:
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.
You can read the whole WSJ article here, and the entire official response from Gibson here. Personally, this does seem like a lot of nitpicking and trying to create a problem. I would agree that harvesting wood illegally is a real problem. I would also agree that we should not allow this wood to be purchased and to illegally enter the country, but the harsh penalties detailed in the WSJ article for improper paperwork seems silly. Why not simply allow them to refile the paperwork with corrections, or provide more complete instructions and help in the first place. With all of the things going on in our country, this is worth all of the time and effort we’re putting into it? I remain unconvinced.