Hollywood and the music industry have been on a rampage railing against copyright abuse, sending cease and desist letters with outrageous monetary demands to little girls, schoolteachers, and yes repeat hackers who illegally download and distribute their films and albums. Yet, right there on Page 1 of the NY Times, is a story about one of the most prolific and unapologetic copyright thieves in America. A man who buys $5 DVD knockoffs from his barbershop and then spends all day -everyday- copying them on a professional DVD copier that produces 7 copies at a time. He then packs them up and ships them out for distribution. According to him, sending out 1,500 in a month is “a slow month.” So why will he never be prosecuted?
Because he is 92 year old Hyman Strachman: WWII vet, widower, retired window and shade manufacturer and serial movie bootlegger. Hyman heard a little while ago that American service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan always had “current movies” on the top of the wish list for care packages. When he looked into whether Hollywood would provide these movies to GIs, he found out that the film industry generally sent one or two movies on reel-to reel to be watched communally at Army bases. And while they were relatively new features, they were not the ones currently in movie theaters.
So “Big HY,” as he is known to the countless servicemen and women who have received his movies due to his generosity not his 5 foot 5 stature, did something about it. He bought the bootleg DVDs, started copying them, packaging them and shipping them to Army Chaplains abroad. Why chaplains? “Chaplains don’t sell them and they fan out. The distribution is great,” he says in the article.
Since 2003 (when his wife passed away and he came upon a website devoted to fulfilling GI’s care packages’ requests) Big Hy has spent 60 hours a week and an estimated $30,000 of his own money to ship 84 movies at a time (the most he can cram into a standard US Postal Service fixed-rate box) to the servicemen. He gets an incredible response and his Massapequa home is flooded with flags, letters and mementos sent by appreciative servicemen. Asked about how he felt about the illegality he is engaged in he says:
It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it. If I were younger, maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.
The hoosegow? You gotta love this guy. Capt. Bryan Curran who returned from Afghanistan in 2010 felt the same way and had to meet Hy personally because between 2008 and 2010 when he was abroad, Big Hy sent more than 2,000 DVDs to his unit. He was shocked to find the white-haired, stoop shouldered vet with spindly hands responsible for shipping 80,000 discs a year. The Times article also interviews Jenna Gordon, a medic with the 883rd Medical Company near Kandahar, where soldiers would gather for movie nights around personal computers, many not even knowing where the movies came from. Lest you think Hy’s work is no big deal, she called it “Pretty big stuff – its reconnecting you to everything you miss.”
Hy has no problem that soon he will be put out of business when all the troops are removed from combat operations abroad, happier to have an end put to his hobby than for their to be a need for its continuation. Until then though, he vows to continue to plug away and ship DVDs. The question is Why does Big HY have to do this? Why doesn’t Hollywood step up and do this for Armed Forces. They are well aware of Hy’s “hobby.” An industry spokesperson only told the Times “We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home.” That’s it? The folks putting their lives in harm’s way will have to watch copies of bootlegged DVDs, shipped by some guy in Massapequa? You would think the industry wold say OK, we’ll get original theater quality DVDs to our guys and gals so Hy can stop stealing them. Nope, shame on them. Me? I’m sending a check to the NY Times to forward to Hy to help defray his costs as he continues his illegal labor of love. Does that make me an accomplice?
Here’s a link to the article: