Lacey Act, Luthiers and the Relief Act

Kathryn Marie Dudley, a professor of anthropology and American studies at Yale, wrote a grammatically poor yet decent opinion piece published in the NY Times Tuesday. Please disregard her attempt to slight those blaming Obama for attacking American business. She writes, “The law that investigators enforced in the August raid is indeed flawed — but not for the reasons critics cite.” Then ‘forgets’ to include what were the actual reasons for the raid on Gibson and not on Martin, Taylor, etc. who all use the same ‘illegal’ wood from the same source.

She outlined a problem that many luthiers currently live with… they are all holding material deemed illegal by the Lacey Act.

New legislation is being introduced by Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee called the Relief Act. Although this act does provide relief for some issues of Lacey, it does not go far enough to help most luthiers. Here are the main provisions of the act:

  • Grandfathering: Any foreign wood products that a person owned before May 22, 2008 (the date the Lacey Act amendments were signed into law) will be exempt from the law.
  • Protection: If a person has any wood that violates Lacey but didn’t know it, he or she will not be penalized, and the government cannot confiscate that individual property.
  • Access: The government should compile a database of forbidden wood sources on the Internet so that everyone is fairly warned.

The first two provisions have some merit. The third is ridiculous.

The first is great for you guitar and antique furniture owners. If this legislation passes, your guitars, furniture or any other finished product owned before May 22, 2008 are no longer illegal. By the way… did you know your guitar with an Indian Rosewood fretboard is illegal? Yes… if you piss off the right USFW agent, they will confiscate your guitars and whatever else they deem necessary and you will be up for a felony, fines and imprisonment. Joy!

Provision two is good in that if the legislation becomes law, a bunch of us will not be up for a $500,000 fine, 5 years in prison and a felony charge for owning wood that is illegal according to the Lacey Act.

Provision three is really pointless but could allow some bureaucrats to hire more government lackeys to $100k+ jobs and do nothing but sit around and decide who is a bad person. The Lacey Act makes it illegal for Americans to have in possession woods that were not legally (in another country) harvested, transported or whatever. A wood source that is not forbidden is the main cause of the raid on Gibson.

While these provisions are a great start for you collectors and immediate concerns of luthiers, they do not address that fact that a lot of luthiers are sitting on tens of thousands of dollars worth of wood deemed illegal by the 2008 Lacey amendment. So, the Relief Act may take away prison, fines and felonies for us, it does not deal with the retirement accounts we have in the form of lumber.

“What do you mean?”, you ask. Well, if a luthier were to build an instrument using these woods deemed illegal by Lacey, after the Relief Act passes, that instrument would still be illegal under Lacey. This means that using, selling, transporting, eating, looking at, burning, etc. any lumber from the retirement account is illegal.

What will luthiers do with their illegal retirement accounts? Maybe a government bailout is in order? (cynicism implied)


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