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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gibson Gives In, Or Does It?

Gibson Guitar logo image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
The case of Gibson Guitar vs. The US Fish and Game and their claim that Gibson violated the Lacey Act by importing wood on the endangered species list has gone on for a couple of years now, but now it looks like it's finally come to an end.

In a Department of Justice press release yesterday, the DOJ announced that Gibson has agreed to pay a $300,000 fine, and forfeit the seized rosewood and ebony from India and Madagascar, bringing the case to a close.

While this seems like an admission of guilt, it may have been a clever business move by Gibson. First, it puts the case behind them, stopping the unwanted press and the financial bleeding that comes from hiring attorneys required to fight such a high profile case.

But even more than that, it actually calls into question the DOJ's tactics, since many are now wondering, "Why did the DOJ decline to pursue further prosecution?" The agreement not only calls into question whether just was really served (I don't think it was), but also makes it seem like a company can buy its way out of criminal prosecution if it has the wherewithal.

All I know is that if I were buying a new guitar today, I'd be checking really carefully to see what kind of wood was actually used in creating it. Who knows how spooked guitar manufacturers are after this.


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MMI said...

Minor correction:

According to this, they are not forfeiting seized material

Glad it's over but something stinks pretty badly.

Faza (TCM) said...

I'm guessing that everyone wanted to get this out of the way ASAP and pretend it never happened.

From what I can tell, looking over the settlement briefly, is that the India part of the bust was a cock-up, pure and simple - apparently it isn't at all clear what Indian law says on the matter, so the F&G's were on pretty shaky footing regarding the Lacey Act.

Their case looks a lot more solid with regards to Madagascar and this, I believe, is what the forfeiture (and fine) pertains to. One of the acknowledged facts in the settlement is that Gibson was informed that fingerboard blanks weren't considered finished products by the the local government (albeit not by the government representatives themselves, apparently, that interpretation comes from the folks at Greenpeace et al.)

Except it's not that simple. The law in question makes it illegal to export ebony other than in "finished" form, finished meaning "shaped and processed to its final use and is no longer capable of being modified". Instrument parts - including fingerboards - are enumerated as examples of finished products, but fingerboard blanks are not.

So, even in the case of the Malagasy wood, the matter is hardly... ahem... clear-cut. It is unlikely that whoever was drafting the law had any idea what a "fingerboard blank" is, even though they were no doubt aware that Madagascar was exporting wood for fingerboard construction (or guitar fingerboards would not have been specifically enumerated - I'm not aware of Madagascar being noteworthy for guitar making). Which means that it is concievable that exporting ebony fingerboard blanks was perfectly legal even in this case.

Having already gone off the deep end with the raid, the U.S. Government would look rather bad if they suddenly sat up and said - gee, guys, we screwed up, as you were. The settlement allows the Feds to keep face and Gibson to move along. Having read the settlement, my money would have been on Gibson if it came to trial (not a lot of money though).

Steve A. Roonie said...

Shouldn't that be "JUSTICE was really..." not just was really...?

Rand Bliss said...

This recent bit of news was like Dracula hearing there was a job opening at the local blood bank.

Regardless of the truth here, one thing's certain; our lovely Les Paul's are appreciating even faster and becoming more valuable/collectable than before.

Some may beg to differ, but unless you're Warren Buffett and can afford something pre-Norlin (1969-1985), the best LP's since then are from 1990 to 1998.

And yes, I'm a self-confessed Les Paul-a'holic. I had my last Les Paul 15 minutes ago;-)

LOVE you Gibson!


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