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Tennessee Reps Prepare Bill to Protect Guitar Owners After Gibson Raid

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Oct. 6, 2011: A 1960 Gibson Les Paul Special, formerly owned by reggae musician Peter Tosh, is displayed in New York. (AP)

Tennessee lawmakers alarmed over a recent federal raid on Gibson Guitar factories in their state plan to introduce a bill aimed at protecting instrument owners from being punished under the same law that snared the legendary company. 

Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., on Thursday plan to introduce a proposal to amend the so-called Lacey Act. The expansive law makes it illegal to buy, sell or travel with certain wood products, and requires owners to carry specific documentation for others. The lawmakers say this threatens musicians, antique dealers and others who travel with products containing rare plant or wood materials. 

The amendments would "grandfather" all instruments and furniture made before May 22, 2008, when the law was last updated to cover exotic woods, so owners of those products would not face prosecution. 

"Innocent buyers of such products before 2008 should not be punished," a statement released by the lawmakers' office said. 

The proposal comes after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Homeland Security agents raided Gibson locations in late August. The agencies took away 24 pallets of Indian rosewood and ebony, as well as a number of guitars and computer files. 

The federal agents' contention was that Gibson had illegally imported the exotic wood, which is used to make fretboards and bridges for their high-end instruments, from India. The sticking point, though, was over which country had done the work on the wood. 

While federal officials say the wood -- as imported -- is illegal, had it been finished by workers in India, it would have been legal to import. The wood itself was not banned, just the manufacturing process. 

The amendment would also try to clarify portions of the act that require compliance with foreign laws, calling on the government to put together a database of all relevant laws. Plus the amendment would reduce the paperwork necessary to import and export musical instruments and furniture manufactured before that 2008 date. 

Currently, musicians who travel out of the country with vintage instruments that include exotic woods face seizure of their instruments and heavy fines if they don't have the proper paperwork when they return to the U.S. 

Country music star Vince Gill released a statement Thursday touting the proposal. 

"From the perspective of guitar players, collectors and lovers of old instruments, I wholeheartedly support this bill," he said. 

Fox News' John Roberts contributed to this report.