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PayPal dispute ends in 'violin destruction'

T&C hell, or a warning about how to buy old instruments?

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Like just about every collectable, violins are subject to fakery and claims of fakery – something that a person claiming to be a seller on the site alleges has led to the destruction of what the poster claims was a $2,500 instrument in a PayPal dispute.

According to a post on the blog Regretsy the violin was smashed in accordance with PayPal’s terms and conditions.

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

Although label disputes in the violin trade aren’t uncommon, the post says, “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.”

And yes, that’s what the PayPal T&C document says: if there’s a dispute over whether an item is authentic, “PayPal may require” the buyer “to destroy the item and provide evidence of its destruction” – in this case leaving the seller not only out-of-pocket, but also without a violin she claims “made it through WWII”.

So far so good – or bad, depending on your point of view.

The problem seems to be that even though a recent study suggests that in a double-blind test even world-class violinists don’t necessarily favour a Stradivarius over a new violin, cachet and collectability attach to old instruments.

In spite of the seller’s assertion that there’s no such thing as counterfeiting, experts like the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers disagrees, noting that (for example) genuine Stradivarius instruments have all been accounted for, and saying that there are millions of fake Strads out there. A bit of Googling yields up plenty of individuals and organisations documenting the practise of label faking, and even tales of luthiers who collect dust from instruments given to them for repair, which can be used to give an impression of age to a new violin.

The veracity of the poster's claims could not be confirmed.

There is another angle here, to do with product counterfeiting in general. That line in the PayPal T&Cs doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it’s part of a global environment in which product counterfeiting is regarded with as much law enforcement horror as drug dealing. PayPal’s rules are probably designed not just to satisfy their own lawyers, but also to placate various government and private sector groups protecting the value of running shoes and handbags by stamping out look-alikes and knock-offs.

The cautionary tale could just be one about using a service like PayPal without reading the terms and conditions – but it could also be a warning that you can’t tell a genuine collectable instrument from a fake without actually handling it. ®

Update: PayPal has contacted The Register via its PR agency to point out the reason that the destruction of goods exists in its terms and conditions. "The reason why we reserve the option to ask the buyer to destroy the goods is that in many countries, including the US, it is a criminal offense to mail counterfeit goods back to a seller", we are told.

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