The NY Time front-pages the story of a DVD bootlegger who will never be prosecuted. Their only mistake was running it below the fold.
At 92, a Bandit to Hollywood but a Hero to Soldiers
By ALAN SCHWARZ
MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. — One of the world’s most prolific bootleggers of Hollywood DVDs loves his morning farina. He has spent eight years churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of “The Hangover,” “Gran Torino” and other first-run movies from his small Long Island apartment to ship overseas.
“Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the United States military presence in those regions dwindling, Big Hy Strachman will live on in many soldiers’ hearts as one of the war’s more shadowy heroes.
“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law.
“If I were younger,” he added, “maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.”
Capt. Bryan Curran, who recently returned from Afghanistan, estimated that from 2008 to 2010, Mr. Strachman sent more than 2,000 DVDs to his outfits there.
“You’re shocked because your initial image is of some back-alley Eastern European bootlegger — not an old Jewish guy on Long Island,” Captain Curran said. “He would time them with the movie’s release — whenever a new movie was just in theaters, we knew Big Hy would be sending us some. I saw ‘The Transformers’ before it hit the States.”
Jenna Gordon, a specialist in the Army Reserve, said she had handed out even more of Mr. Strachman’s DVDs last year as a medic with the 883rd Medical Company east of Kandahar City, where soldiers would gather for movie nights around personal computers, with mortar blasting in the background. Some knew only that the discs came from some dude named Big Hy; others knew not even that.
“It was pretty big stuff — it’s reconnecting you to everything you miss,” she said. “We’d tell people to take a bunch and pass them on.”
This ought to be made into a movie, although to compound the drama Hollywood ought to sue him first. Would there be a dry eye in the house for the courtroom scene? Or they could play it as a comedy - picture a bunch of suits stalking the nefarious "Big Hy" and discovering their actual nemesis.
Just a little more:
White-haired, slightly hunched and speaking in his Depression-era Brooklyn brogue (think Casey Stengel after six years of Hebrew school), Mr. Strachman explained in a recent interview that his 60-hour-a-week venture was winding down. “It’s all over anyways — they’re all coming home in the near future,” he said of the troops.
As he spoke, he was busy preparing some packages, filled with 84 discs of “The Artist,” “Moneyball” and other popular films, many of them barely out of theaters, to a platoon in Afghanistan.
As for his brazen violation of domestic copyright laws, Mr. Strachman nodded guiltily but pointed to his walls, which are strewed with seven huge American flags, dozens of appreciative letters, and snapshots of soldiers holding up their beloved DVDs.
“Every time I got back an emotional e-mail or letter, I sent them another box,” he said, adding that he had never accepted any money for the movies or been told by any authorities to stop.
“I thought maybe because I’m an old-timer,” he said.
In February, Mr. Strachman duplicated and shipped 1,100 movies. (“A slow month,” he said.) He has not kept an official count but estimates that he topped 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004. Postage of about $11 a box, and the blank discs themselves, would suggest a personal outlay of over $30,000.
Yeah, book 'em.
Ok, but seriously - suppose he was shoplifting from WalMart to send packages to Mother Teresa's operation in India. Still OK?
One might argue that if Uncle Sam or an energetic charity wants to ship DVDs to the troops abroad that they ought to cut some fair deal with Hollywood producers, who might line up for the good publicity. A nation of laws, not Robin Hoods!
Or one might argue there is something ephemeral about intellectual property and copyrights, since one person's use doesn't affect the availability to others (although it affects Hollywood's revenue). In contrast, medicine shoplifted from WalMart is no longer available to others.
On the other hand, we are talking about Hollywood, and this guy got it done. Pin a medal on him. Or sue him. Or both.