One wonders if Les Paul, the legendary guitar genius and creator
of Gibson's "Les Paul guitar," turned in his grave,
when federal agents recently raided the Gibson guitar factory in
Nashville, Tenn. The raids, in 2009, and more recently in August,
2011, were conducted under authority of the Lacey Act, and serve as
a warning to U.S. importers that they must be mindful of not only
U.S. law, but of the laws of the country where a product is
The Lacey Act, (16 U.S.C. §§
3371–3378), introduced and signed into law in 1900, was
intended to protect both plants and wildlife by creating civil and
criminal penalties for trading in wildlife, fish, and plants that
have been illegally taken, transported or sold. Amendments to the
Act have expanded the Act's application to the enforcement of
the laws of other countries to prevent U.S. companies from being
used for trafficking in illegal goods. In other words, violation of
the export laws of another country also constitutes a violation of
the law of the United States.
While importers are the most directly affected, it is possible
under this Act, at least in theory, that guitars, or for that
matter any products made with "illegal" wood, owned by
individuals, could be seized by federal agents. The instruments of
musicians travelling internationally could be subject to seizure if
proper documentation of origin cannot be produced. Thus far, the
focus of enforcement has been on shippers, manufacturers, and
In the case of Gibson, armed federal agents raided the factory
in November 2009, seizing guitars and fingerboard blanks allegedly
made from illegally harvested Madagascan rosewood and ebony. In a
second raid in August 2011, wood, electronic files, and guitars
were seized that were related to a shipment of sawn ebony logs from
In addition to the legal implications, the raid resulted in a
business disruption and loss of income. The violation asserted
under Indian law, arguably could have been avoided, if the wood had
been finished in India, rather than the United States. In addition
to wood products, the Act has been applied to a multitude of
products and wildlife, including lobsters from Honduras, where
criminal convictions were upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of
Appeals in United States v McNab, et al, 331 F.3d
1228 (11th Cir. 2001).
It is important that companies importing and purchasing goods
from overseas be aware and take necessary precautions knowing that
they are responsible, both civilly and criminally, when they import
goods that violate the law of the exporting country.
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