PayPal’s Dr Who charity gaffe causes social media outrage

PayPal doesn’t exactly have the greatest history when it comes to people collecting charitable projects. Last year, for instance, it tried to get one user to refund the almost US20 000 they had collected to buy Christmas toys for needy children.

That incident was brought to the world’s attention by the incident’s victim and Regretsy user Helen Killer. That was bad. Now though, the online payments system has managed to anger two sections of the online community: people who care about charity and Dr Who fans.

Ben Morris and Steve Berry are regular contributors to Dr Who magazine. For the past few years now, they’ve been compiling a book based celebrity memories of the time-travelling doctor called Behind the Sofa. All proceeds from the book were to go to an Alzheimer’s research in the UK. Everything appeared to be going smoothly, until PayPal stepped in.

Berry posted on the book’s blog:

This morning I received a very short, very terse telephone call from a lady called Francine, who works for PayPal.

Francine informed me that the PayPal account associated with Behind The Sofa had taken a lot of money over a very short period. She explained that she had looked at the site and understood that I was taking orders for a book.

I told her that the money generated by the pre-orders taken through the web site effectively pays for the production and distribution of the book, with the net profit thereafter being donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

All of this you will know if you have seen the rest of this site. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm of all those who have pre-ordered a copy of the book. In fact, I set up this site as an experiment in “crowdfunding” after I couldn’t find a satisfactory solution elsewhere. Had the book failed to generate enough money to fund the book, I was prepared to do so out of my own pocket.

It seems that I will now have to do that.

Francine explained that PayPal would be freezing my account, meaning that the project is stalled. The phone call was followed by an “account frozen” email.


Berry added that Pay Pal had not given him any specific reason why the account had been frozen.

Dissatisfied with the situation, the book’s two compilers decided to take the issue to social media.


A slew of tweets followed, both in support of the campaign, and expressing disgust at PayPal.





The campaign also got support from celebrity author Neil Gaiman (whose memories of Dr Who happen to be included in the book):


As Berry explains, PayPal has since responded, with an explanation of the actions it would be taking:

The money paid thus far will be held by PayPal until further notice. In order to release some of the balance (which was of course intended to fund the first print run of the book, but now cannot be used for this purpose), I need to provide them with receipts of paid invoices for printing and distribution of the book. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. PayPal will not release the money to pay for the book pre-orders to be fulfilled UNTIL the book orders have been fulfilled.

The end result of this is that Berry will have to fund the first run of the book from his own savings.

Not exactly the most satisfactory solution is it? And, as Berry rightly points out, he may not have received the funding he had were it not for social media pressure and support from the likes of Gaiman.



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