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Lacey Act Critics Speak Up

Last month, I used this space to discuss sky-is-falling myths circulating about The Lacey Act. Not surprisingly, the article struck a nerve.

Within days of publication, I received a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from readers. Some said they appreciated the article's "level-headed" stance on the environmental protection law. Others told me I was off. Way off.

The most vocal criticism came from small guitar makers and retailers who specialize in the international used and vintage guitar trade. In particular, they took issue with the editorial's following statement:

"And what does The Lacey Act mean for your average instrument maker? In short, more paperwork. It's a pain, but it's not the end of manufacturing as we know it."

Specifically, they said the paperwork and high expense required to comply with The Lacey Act makes doing business unreasonably difficult, if not impossible. Whether retailer or luthier, a few said the law's amendment in 2008 has killed their international business completely.

"The paperwork requires identification of every plant and animal component in a manufactured item to the level of genus and species," said Richard Bruné, head of R.E. Bruné Guitars in Evanston, Ill. "That's an unreasonable burden to place even on a botanist, let alone the average manufacturer and certainly on individuals."

Attorney Ron Bienstock, a partner with Bienstock & Michael, represents a large cadre of guitar makers. He noted that the "exactitude, time-consumption issues and cost" required to comply with The Lacey Act "can really take a toll on a small luthier or a small retailer."

George Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, Tenn., acknowledged that the law is well-intentioned, but "as it is currently being interpreted and enforced, it makes international trade in new musical instruments much more cumbersome and makes international trade in vintage instruments exceedingly difficult."

I still say this isn't the end of manufacturing as we know it. For larger companies, The Lacey Act is a paperwork speed bump. For smaller manufacturers and dealers doing a substantial used international trade, that speed bump seems more like a mountain.

Luckily, at press time, NAMM and a group of music industry members were lobbying Capitol Hill to garner support for The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act. If passed, it will exempt pre-2008 instruments from Lacey enforcement.

Now's the time to get on the horn with your members of Congress. Urge them to support this important amendment. MI