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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

How to Survive A Violin - The Paypal way

I read today about the tragic story of a deceased violin. This was not just any violin (none of them are, are they?) but one which was at the centre of a dispute between a buyer and seller on eBay, which was, at one time, marketed as a website where the little people could buy and sell their unwanted things.

The whole story can be read here: but the main details of what happened can be found below:

A smashed violin!!! 
Dear Helen Killer (From the Regretsy blog)

I love your site and was thrilled to hear of your “win” against PayPal. I recently had a heartbreaking experience of my own with them.

I sold an old French violin to a buyer in Canada, and the buyer disputed the label.

This is not uncommon. In the violin market, labels often mean little and there is often disagreement over them. Some of the most expensive violins in the world have disputed labels, but they are works of art nonetheless.

Rather than have the violin returned to me, PayPal made the buyer DESTROY the violin in order to get his money back. They somehow deemed the violin as “counterfeit” even though there is no such thing in the violin world.

The buyer was proud of himself, so he sent me a photo of the destroyed violin.

I am now out a violin that made it through WWII as well as $2500. This is of course, upsetting. But my main goal in writing to you is to prevent PayPal from ordering the destruction of violins and other antiquities that they know nothing about. It is beyond me why PayPal simply didn’t have the violin returned to me.

I spoke on the phone to numerous reps from PayPal who 100% defended their action and gave me the party line.


Heartbreaking is not a strong enough word!

This is normal policy for Paypal, who can apparently order any item to be destroyed if they suspect that it is a fake. An objective observer might say, surely, if they have to deal with so many disputes a day, then it is reasonable to think that they must have to have the same policy apply to everyone.

But, crucially, what this does is to expose both eBay's and paypal's policy of only trusting the word of one party in nearly every dispute. They value their buyers so much that they unerringly seem to fall down on the buyer's side nearly every time.

This is evidenced by the growing numbers of websites full of disgruntled sellers who have their accounts limited or frozen by arbitrary decisions which are churned out on a worryingly regular basis. Look for disgruntled buyers and they are there, but not legions like the sellers are.

In this case the seller listed that they had the violin checked by a luthier but the buyer disputed the authenticity. Well you could say that about anything, who are we supposed to believe? Would you walk into your local designer goods store and dispute their veracity? You would get laughed out of the shop. So, in a listing, which explicitly stated that it was authentic, why did PayPal not even investigate it?

Paypal are at the heart of millions of ecommerce solutions all over the web. They provide many, many families with a means to earn enough to pay their bills - and this does show in the many different reactions to this viral story all over the web.

from the Guardian website we have an antique violin dealer saying "only a fool would buy an instrument without playing it"

From various twitter feeds and social websites there is outrage at this obscenity

This is from

Hey Peter Thiel, instead of whining about the iPhone, Twitter, and internet not being innovative and life-changing enough, why don't you fix this life-ruining piece of sh** company that you cr***ed into the world? That would definitely be a "net plus".

But ultimately this is about a violin, which, if real, managed to survive seventy-plus years in this world, probably thruogh Nazi-occupied France, if you can believe it, but lost the fight against a nameless, faceless PayPal employee. How hopelessly sad.

  How do we survive this? If you feel strongly enough, then surely a complaint to paypal is justified or a comment on a relevant Facebook page.

We must rage against this dying of our humanity.

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