Musicians hit a sour note with Obama’s new rules on ivory

piano keys

Photo piano keys/Kay B. Day

It’s likely many musicians supported President Barack Obama, but it’s not likely they anticipated the impact of his policies on their trade.

Obama has unilaterally ramped up environmental regulations on a scale no one envisioned, one reason utility rates have “skyrocketed” as he publicly hoped for ahead of his 2008 campaign*.

Those increases have received little attention from media or the administration, but new rules on ivory may drive home the impact of hyper-environmentalism in an inconvenient way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has moved to “ban commercial elephant ivory and rhino horn trade.” While most of us agree elephants need protection, the rules don’t just apply to new ivory. If an instrument has been sold at some point in its lifetime—this happens more frequently than non-musicians know—the seller could be impacted.

FWS, in a page about the new rules, said [bold and underscore added]:

“Worked African elephant ivory imported for personal use as part of a household move or as an inheritance and worked African elephant ivory imported as part of a musical instrument will continue to be allowed provided the worked ivory has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit and the item is accompanied by a valid CITES document. The import of raw African elephant ivory, other than sport-hunted trophies, is prohibited.”

Meanwhile, most won’t be reassured to learn FWS is working on clarifying the definition of “antique.”

The changes are a response to another of Obama’s executive orders; Congress did not pass a new law although reform of related laws like the Lacey Act amendments is long overdue. For instance in January, U.S. federales in Customs destroyed flutes belonging to a musician flying into JFK in New York. Why? They were agricultural products. The Lacey Act and associated amendments have numerous obscure restrictions.

Even major producers have been ensnared in laws that are obscure and often incomprehensible. Two raids on Gibson Guitars by armed federal teams occurred because of bureaucratic interpretations of such laws.

The American Federation of Musicians is reportedly not happy with Obama’s latest executive legislation. The Daily Caller included excerpts from a letter AFM sent to its members:

“With the serious implications to the livelihood of professional musicians across the country uppermost in mind, the AFM is currently using its congressional influence to revise the governmental rulemaking process at the highest levels of the federal government.”

How do you know what truly qualifies as an antique? How do you know whether a used instrument was sold for profit multiple times before it ended up in your hands? FWS will advise in time, and if not, prepare to possibly part with your instrument depending on the mood of the federal official you encounter in your travels.

Rules and advisories posted at FWS suggest a fluid, potentially confusing regulatory situation typical of uncontrollable or mismanaged bureaucracies.

*Related Link
Obama said energy costs will skyrocket

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/April 17, 2014)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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