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Gibson raid has musicians fearful of flying

The Lacey Act could allow the government to confiscate questionable instruments

Musicians are passionately bound to their instruments. The prospect that they could lose them at a border check if they can’t document the origin of every component made from a type of wood that is protected by any law, anywhere in the world is understandably terrifying. But is the fear justified?

“I’d like to say no, but this is a fluid area where very little can be taken for granted,” says Gregory Linsin, a partner at Blank Rome and a former U.S. Justice Department environmental lawyer.

One significant aspect of the Lacey Act, which empowers authorities to enforce any relevant foreign law, is that there is no innocent owner provision. In other words, if you come into possession of a musical instrument that is not properly documented with regard to the origin and transfer of any endangered woods, you are technically subject to forfeiture. So legally speaking, the government could confiscate instruments, but would they?

“I don’t think the government intends to curtail musicians’ travel, although their enforcement activity may well have that impact,” says William Droze, a partner at Troutman Sanders. “The problem is that there’s not an established framework of regulation behind the act itself to give confidence to people who may be traveling with their instruments.”

Until that practical framework emerges, or absent a definitive government statement that individual musicians are in the clear, expect many of them to leave their favorite instruments at home.

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