In a case where the virtual world crashes headlong into the real world’s legal system, a Pennsylvania man has pled guilty to felony in Indiana court stemming from a fraudulent land investment in Second Life.
This story of a virtual fraud leading to real arrest and prosecution in Indiana caught my eye because I am familiar with the Hoosier state.
Josh Bills was convicted of scamming a Morgan County woman out of more than 50-thousand dollars. The woman gave Bills over $50,000 for the purpose of expanding his real virtual real estate business. After Bills spent $3,256.10 with Second Life and then put the rest of the money into his E*Trade investment account, the Indiana woman contacted the office of Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson. Lawson went to work and Bills was arrested.
In a first-of-its kind case, Bills pleaded guilty in July to a charge of theft, a class D felony, and was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay full restitution of $53,500 to the victim. In what could be a precedent setting move, Lawson prosecuted Bills for not being a registered business in Indiana.
“Real estate schemes are some of the most common forms of investment fraud that come across my desk, but this is the first time we’ve seen a virtual land scam,” said Secretary Lawson.
Obviously there was no “land” being sold here. The “land” in question was similar to all land in Second Life. It is nothing more than server space …or is it? Lawson gave the case enough value to prosecute Bills because neither he nor the product he offered were licensed in Indiana.
When you consider that Bills was in Pa, and the victim was in Indiana, and the land to be purchased was essentially storage space sitting in a server in California, you have to kind of admire Lawson’s office for even investigating Bills attempt at fraud, much less making an actual arrest and prosecuting the case. Since it appears to have ended with Bills agreeing to plead guilty, I don’t think an appeal is likely, or even possible. That could have been interesting. I think that, as virtual reality develops, it will be interesting to see real world governing bodies try to apply existing laws as more and more people step back and forth from the real world into the virtual one.
It is always a treat to find a new sim or location to visit in Second Life. Often, I will simply open my map and skip around some of the Linden Endowment for the Arts locations on the map and see what I can find. It can be hit and miss, but I recently found a location that I thought was very unique and a great take on landscaping in Second Life. Imagine stepping into a watercolor painting and going for a walk. That is exactly what artist Ceakay Ballyhoo, better known as CK, has created at A Watercolour Wander.
CK shares my love for landscaping. She is also a watercolor artist in real life and her LEA project is the result of trying to bring the two things together.
“I love the immersive nature of SL and am thoroughly enjoying landscaping and decorating in here,” said CK. “When I started to play with making my own textures and realized I could paint watercolors, I was instantly reminded of my love for the book Rose Madder, and the movie What Dreams May Come, both dealing with ‘entering’ paintings and seeing the world beyond. So that’s what I wanted to try and create. The sensation of walking into a painting.”
In an endeavor that took approximately five months, CK has created a unique setting where, from any direction, you are standing inside a painting. She takes it a step further by adding a story to each of the “panels” that you walk through while exploring the sim. If you visit, don’t rush. Take time to read the stories and take a pause inside each setting. If you take your time, the setting can be very immersive and relaxing.
The sim is part of LEA12, and it is great to see Linden Lab still supporting some artistic efforts with their endowment. Personally, I would like to see them do more, but that is a rant for another day. CK said that the experience of working with the endowment was a positive experience.
“It has been great so far,” she said. “They assign someone to you for any questions you might have and offer to assist in any way they can.”
Give yourself a moment and take time to visit A Watercolour Wander soon.
While everyone is obviously excited about Linden Lab’s Project Bing which will improve the avatar skeleton, another project is sneaking in that I think is just as exciting.
Currently, if you check out the list of official alternate LL viewers, you can find the Project VOB Viewer. This viewer includes a great new feature I have been wishing for LL to add to their viewer for years. If you are like me, your appearance folder is full to the brim of different outfits you have saved. I have tried various naming systems, but still always end up with a few folders that I am not sure what outfit I have saved inside.
With this new feature, we can attach a picture to each outfit folder, so we can see EXACTLY what outfit is inside! Pretty cool, right? Even better, the designers at LL have made the process very simple. If you look at my Appearance Folder in the photo, you will see I have selected to view “Outfit Gallery”. This breaks each outfit folder into a large folder icon. You simply take a snapshot of the outfit you have saved inside that folder and TADA! You can now add an image of the outfit to that folder icon, giving you a visual representation of all your outfits. The folder’s menu let’s you add an existing image, or you can simply select “take snapshot” from the menu and you instantly have a snapshot for your folder. You are charged 10L per snapshot, so be aware of that.
You can try the VOB viewer now, but remember, it is a test viewer and is not even considered a beta release, so expect a few bugs. If it becomes a part of the official viewer code, I can see myself using this feature quite a bit. How about you? Is this a feature that you will find helpful in your Second Life?