Prolific DVD Bootlegger Is 92 Year-Old WWII Veteran

from the mpaa's-worst-nightmare dept

The MPAA often loves to talk about just how evil DVD bootleggers are. They’re the ones that the MPAA most frequently uses to draw a “connection” between “piracy” and “organized crime.” Because of DVD bootleggers, we even got a ridiculous, 4th Amendment-ignoring law in California that lets police search DVD printing plants at random with no warrant, just to make sure they’re not making copies of movies without authorization. Of course, law enforcement also has a history of seizing authorized DVDs and insisting they were pirated.

So, you have to imagine that the MPAA’s PR team is not particularly pleased with the NY Times’ profile of one of the most prolific DVD bootleggers out there: a 92-year old World War II veteran named Hyman Strachman, who bootlegs a ton of DVDs every month and ships them off to US soldiers abroad:

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.

There are some great pictures in the article, which show that he’s actually using some sophisticated equipment, including a professional DVD duplicator that lets him make seven copies at once. He estimates that he spends about 60 hours a week bootlegging movies. By his own estimates, he sends about 80,000 DVDs per year, and has probably sent over 300,000 total since he started. And soldiers in the field love him for it.

An MPAA spokesperson admits that he “did not believe [the MPAA] studios were aware of Mr. Strachman’s operation” and then delicately stated, “We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to [soldiers] while they are away from home.” However, you have to imagine that they’re seething about the NY Times highlighting how much good a bootlegging operation can do.

Of course, the real shame in all of this is that the MPAA could — and probably should — be doing this directly themselves. They should be providing DVDs or streams free of charge to the military. Instead, in their insane fear of piracy, they make it complicated to impossible for soldiers to view films, even when they decide to send them over: “studios do send military bases reel-to-reel films, which are much harder to copy, and projectors for the troops overseas.” Because that’s exactly what you want for soldiers in the field: having to carry around and mess with heavy and annoying equipment that’s likely to break.

As for Strachman, he seems to hope that his age and the fact that he’s not doing this for money will protect him:

“If I were younger, maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.”

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Comments on “Prolific DVD Bootlegger Is 92 Year-Old WWII Veteran”

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113 Comments
Woog says:

Re:

Perhaps nothing wrong, but they didn’t do anything right either.

Really? Reel-to-Reel and projectors? There is no other motivation to do that except for piracy concerns. I actually thought studios *DID* send DVD’s and other “portable” media stuff to the troops. Streaming I’m sure not so much due to local.

This is just one more example where DRM-or-bust solutions produce a negative effect.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It still bothers me the story claims losses of billions of dollars with nothing to actually support that statement. Talking about how organized crime is behind duping these things… Except so few people bother with the discs of the street anymore.

Even the MPAA can see the downside of going after a 92 yr old pirate, who has many friends. Friends with guns and the training to use them.

The sadder note in this is they still send projectors and reels of film… when they talked about not wanting to keep up with technology they were serious.

To think someone in a warzone would take the time to rip and post a movie sent to them for the world to see really should show the disconnect and fear that possesses them.

I feel kinda bad for him at the same time, could have gotten 5 movies on each disc using other formats with the same quality.

Beech (profile) says:

Pshaw. This man clearly is clearly just a freetard with some entitlement complex, enabling other freetards with entitlement complexes to leech off of the creative elements of our society while providing no service in return. Clearly this man and anyone who has ever handled one of his evil evil sin discs should be locked up for the rest of forever.

On a serious note, although I agree with the MPAA (for once, although it hurts my brain to admit it) not charging this man for what he’s doing, it does make them look like a bunch of spineless hypocrites. If it was any other person with a bootlegging operation of this scale they would be fined more money than there is in the world, and thrown in jail for a few consecutive life sentences. Then the MPAA would trot the case out as an example of how horrible piracy is. So what is the MPAA trying to say? Being a veteran lets you cost the country trillions of jobs and quadrillions of dollars, but a poor student trying to download a song should be locked away forever?

mikey4001 says:

Re:

How would you feel if the newspapers had an article about a guy that was violating your rights and getting away with it? I wouldn’t like it.

The newspapers all have articles quite frequently about guys violating my rights and getting away with it. RIAA, MPAA, TSA, ICE, CIA, FBI, DEA, etc. But you’re right, I don’t like it.

varagix says:

Re:

I imagine that the man’s age, service, and purpose makes it hard to spin the story in their favor. The typical *aa ‘suspect’ is young, likely a student, and uploads and downloads media for personal reasons. It’s relatively easy to spin him as a misguided criminal who never worked a day in his life, to appeal to older Americans (like the politicians, lawyers, judges, baby boomers) that this is a menace and is responsible for everything from the economy collapsing to the imminent coming of Ragnarok.

But this guy had a wife, has a good three-quarters of a century of adult life experience, risked his life to protect our nation, and is infringing for purely noble and altruistic reasons. It’s like he’s the kryptonite to the *AA’s piracy-poster-boy.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re:

Every one of those DVDs represents a lost sale.

Probably several lost sales, because multiple people gathered around for “movie night” and all watched the DVD together.

So 300,000 pirate DVDs, times an average of ten audience members for each DVD, means 3 million DVDs times $25 or lost sales of 75 million dollars.

Wait, I must have done something wrong. This must somehow come to Billions of dollars. These trillions of dollars must be the equivalent of tanking the world economy. Thanks to the quadrillions of dollars this guy has cost the economy, is it any wonder why the economy is bad? Think of the septillions of dollars damage this guy has caused to the poor MPAA.

No wonder the economy is doing so badly. It’s all because of one guy.

GMacGuffin says:

Re:

Bigtime! Like how most of the spam just came from a few mega-spammers, apparently the majority of DVD bootlegging is due to this syndicate of one.

The man is taking American jobs! By the hundreds of thousands! Killing our economy! Worst. Pirate. Ever.

He’s a thieving, pirate, traitor (meaning the appropriate punishment should be cutting his hands off, making him walk the plank, then beheading him, respectively).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Do you realize that’s the worst thing they could be doing!!
It’s okay to copy as long as you ship it to soldiers. For fucks sake it just means every current case in court should be dropped! “The ones people are making no money from.”

So if he was 20 doing it he would probably be in jail. This is a bunch of bullshit. I’m all for what he’s doing and I think it’s great. It shows the MPAA are a bunch of hypocrites with their fucking double standards. So once I’m 92 I guess I can start my own bootleg operation as long as I do it 100 percent free.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re:

The only reason they haven’t sued him is because they’re afraid of the PR shitstorm that would result.
That’s it.

That’s nothing to congratulate them over. If the only reason you don’t do something is because of PR, then what you believe and campaign for is not to be respected.
If they had sued him, at least I could say of the MPAA that they believe in what they’re constantly preaching and stick to it. However, now we know they don’t.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re:

Hmmm…possession being illegal? I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it being illegal to POSSESS infringing material. All the court cases and law I’ve heard say its illegal to copy copyrighted works, to distribute them without permission etc.
Basically, as far as I can understand, if Joe copies a DVD movie, he’s broken copyright law in the making of that copy. However, as far as I can tell, I don’t break a single law if Joe were to then give (not sell) me the copy disc. He’s broken the law, in copying and in distributing, but not me in possessing the disc.
If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me, as long as you quote citations. Flames of course mean you have no argument to make.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

You see the difference between a just cause and an unjust one?

One can openly say anything they like and get away with it when the cause is just, on the other hand when it is unjust it doesn’t matter what you say you ain’t getting away with it.

Maybe that is why the spineless artists that support monopolies don’t have the balls to say it to the public because they know it will hurt them.

TechnoMage (profile) says:

if the MPAA wasn't just stupid about CwF=RtB

They would just send over 10,000s of Specially Marked DVDs without extras or anything else, just the movie to the soldiers and then politely ask this guy to stop what he is doing, and tell him that we’ll do it for you, you can even help us organize how they are sent, distributed, etc… Keep the old guy in the loop and show some humanity all at the same time.

HOWEVER, this will NEVER happen….

Rikuo (profile) says:

Hey people. I know this isn’t related to the article, but…I’ve just been banned from the Steam forums. A new visual novel game was released “Analogue: A Hate Story”. On the Steam Community forums, I started a thread, with a lengthy post on why I wouldn’t pay for it. I basically listed a few questions I ask myself before purchasing digital media and where the game fails to make me consider buy it. In my own opinion, I wasn’t flaming, I was being sincere and honest. I also wasn’t blatantly advocating copyright infringement, I was merely stating why I wouldn’t purchase the game.
I did mention the word Piratebay, which I then found out was replaced by lovehearts. I edited the post to include me basically going “Why Valve?” and “This is a shitty practice” at this. A few minutes later, I reloaded, only to be told my account had been banned, with the reason being “Piracy”. That was it.
As of now, I don’t know if being banned on the forums means being banned from my paid for games too.

Why I mention it here is that this is the straw that broke the camels back. I have given up on Steam if this is how they treat their customers.

angrywebmaster (user link) says:

Does the MPAA really want to...

This hero helped ease the stress of thousands of combat troops. He made no money and in fact poured in thousands of dollars of his money.

Does the MPAA really want to go after this gentleman and tick off thousands of people with access to automatic weapons and the ability to call in artillery and air strikes?

I can see it now…

“Captain, how do you manage to lose a Hellfire Missile and have it drop on the HQ of the MPAA?”

Apache gunship pilot: “Sir, for some reason the system shorted out and the missile prematurely fired and locked on the MPAA HQ. I have no idea how this happened!”

Chief mechanic tossing incriminating wiring into the trash freshly removed from an AH64 Apache Gunship:

“Well sir, it looks like we had a cross connect due to some missed battle damage. It’s easy to see how it was missed. When the captain threw the auxiliary power switch, it made a connection with the firing circuits and the missile fired.”

“You two just got back from Afghanistan, didn’t you?”

Chorus “Yes Sir!”

“By chance did Big Hy send you some DVD’s?”

“Yes Sir!”

“Obviously this was an act of god and not intentional. Write up what you found with recommendations to prevent it from happening again. That is all”

Chorus “Yes Sir. Thank you sir!”

varagix says:

Re:

I don’t know about the possession being illegal, but I gotta point out that copying a legally purchased DVD for personal use or fair use (archiving, education, etc) is perfectly legal. So long as you don’t break the DRM on the DVD to do it, that is.

Ironically, you can do this with some pretty old tech: a VCR with a DVD player hooked up to it can make perfectly legal VHS copies of any and all DVDs, no circumvention required. So long as you don’t sell or distribute them, of course.

Cue copy-monopolists calling me a freetard pirate in 3… 2… 1…

AC Cobra says:

So how does this compare?

So if this is “okay”, what about a 25 year old combat veteran of Afghanistan copying DVDs and sending them to combat troops?

What about a 19 year old student sending bootlegged DVDs to Red Cross aid workers in Rwanda? Still a just cause or does the MPAA have to have it’s usual anal freakout and persecute the shit out of her?

It’s a bit of a digression, but personally I think the world’s 30% poorest people should be given free premium internet/netflix/cable whatever (for personal non-commercial use only of course). It’s the least we could do for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“How would you feel if the newspapers had an article about a guy that was violating your rights and getting away with it? I wouldn’t like it.”

I agree, which is why I’m very often in favor of abolishing IP laws. IP laws are a privilege, provided for by the government, that violate my rights that exist outside of government.

Roland says:

what about trademarks?

Forget copyright on this one. Didn’t each and every one of these movies start with a trademarked screen, like the MGM lion or such? Trademark law requires they file suit–it’s a matter of ‘defend it or lose it.’ If they refuse to sue the guy, couldn’t they lose their trademarks? Wouldn’t that be fun?

Anonymous Coward says:

woog Apr 27th, 2012 @ 1:34pm

Yes and no.

First of all reel to reel IS NOT a bad thing.

Firstly, reel to reel doesn’t require anything but a projector. Having large televisions is a bit difficult in some places, which is a definite considering as follows:

Projected movies can be shown to large groups. Need a bigger picture? Move the projector further from the display screen/wall/whatever you’re using.

Now does this absolve the MPAA of being massive pricks? Nope, they server little purpose, to be honest, but to annoy the masses, ie. the customers of the filmmakers. They also increase the cost of all movies by being a tier in the pricing hierarchy, they don’t produce anything themselves, so every movie sold is also part of what funds them. But your argument, even though I dislike the MPAA, isn’t really a good one.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Bootlegging?

I’m having a hard time understanding how this could be classified as bootlegging when there was no commercial/financial gain involved.

Unless the soldiers themselves were selling the DVD’s to others though that would mean they are liable and not the Veteran.

I’d love to see this go to trial, any defence attorney would have so much fun. And a jury trial would probably be highly instructive in the area of jury nullification.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re:

First see if you can access your paid games.

If not, then you need to contact consumer legal advice places (Consumerist too maybe???) Also scream it from the rooftops..
Maybe tell Reddit, Kotaku, Wired, ARS Technica, and write a public letter of disgust to Valve cc’ing all above. Can’t hurt and might make em stop the bullshit (I doubt it though)

If you can access then you are basically out of luck, they can ban anyone and they only want “likable people” nowadays.. seems you are one of those bad bad pirates [congrats ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re:

Those DVDs represent no lost sales.
They didn’t exactly roll into the warzones with kiosks selling movies. They are completely unwilling to meet the market demand.

It is so nice to see the MPAA spokesweasel tap dancing around their typical “EVERYTIME YOU COPY A BABY GETS ABORTED!!” media spin they like to use.

The face they want to put on “pirates” is seedy stereotypes who don’t care who gets hurt by their counterfeit DVDs, because taken improperly they can be just as deadly as fake medicines.

What you see here, is a nice old man who knows something about being in a warzone, and found a way to help out. He spent his own money, kept nothing for himself, and filled a void.

The MPAA might send projectors and reels of movies, and I am willing to bet they managed to spend 10 times what this man spent, and they only managed to send over 3 copies of Waterworld and Battlefield Earth.

A 92 yr old man created a better distribution system than the MPAA, the image of being dragged kicking and screaming into the present persists.

Karl (profile) says:

Re:

isn’t it considered illegal to have pirated movies in your possession?

I was actually curious about this myself a while back. So, I did a bunch of research, and read every law I could find.

The answer? As far as I can tell, it is not unlawful in any way to possess counterfeit DVD’s. As far as I can tell, it’s not even unlawful to buy them.

In neither case is it copyright infringement; none of the 106 rights cover purchasing or possession (just copying and distribution). And I could not find any other law that made these things unlawful. At least not at a federal level; I didn’t look at every state law. On the other hand, state copyright laws cannot cover the same materials as federal copyright laws, so I don’t know if states would even be allowed to make possession or purchasing unlawful.

I am not a lawyer, of course. If any of our usual law-spouting trolls would care to chime in, I’m all ears.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

No, unauthorized downloading is an infringing act under US law because it represents making a copy, and copying is encompassed within the rights holder’s reproduction right.

While JRT obviously made a pile of unauthorized downloads (this was established during her several trials), it was the uploads that got her in trouble because it was a violation of the distribution right, and worldwide distribution is not something that major labels take lightly for obvious reasons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

There is a nuance here you may want to add to your stable of information.

It is not illegal in the US under federal law to possess an illegal copy because possession is not, as you aptly note, a violation of the six rights (7 if you include imports and exports) accorded a copyright holder.

However, if a lawsuit is brought against one who infringed, and the copy in your hand is traced back to the infringer, the copy can be claimed by the copyright holder, which usually takes the form of it and all other infringing copies being destroyed.

Note that I am speaking only about US law. Copyright law varies among countries, and it would not at all be surprising if some countries make possession also illegal.

Concerning state law, you are correct that as a general rule copyright matters are the sole province of the federal government. Without going into detail because it would make this comment desparingly long, states are able to deal in matters involving copyright so long as they are not granting rights that are the kissin’ cousins of federal law. Thus, it is possible for a state to declare that the mere possession of an illegal copy constitutes an illegal act under its laws. I am not aware of any state having enacted such a law, but in my opinion it is not foreclosed under the Constitution.

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