Bootlegging DVDs

nytimes.com

As one of the world’s most prolific DVD bootleggers, Hyram “Big Hy” Strachman of New York was responsible for distributing thousands upon thousands of illegally copied movies.

And despite the fact that for years he’d treated U.S. copyright law like so much Charmin scented two-ply, the government never laid a hand on him. Maybe that’s because he was rapidly approaching his 100th birthday.

Or perhaps it was because he never kept a single solitary dime from the potentially lucrative crimes he committed, and instead donated each and every rom-com, action flick, and Rob Schneider vehicle that he burned off to soldiers overseas during the height of our involvement in the Middle East.

“Here’s just the ticket to help some poor young man pass the time in a dusty foreign land; 300 episodes of Father Dowling Mysteries.” Once you factor in all the postage and blank disks, plus the price on that seven-disc duplicator rig seen above, Strachman probably spent somewhere in the area of $30,000 of his own money in the commission of his transgressions. 

So as far as being a commercially successful techno-bandit goes, he was pretty much a wash. But to the men and women stuck out in the middle of hostile territory, where the height of entertainment might be wagering the day’s MRE on how many camel spiders they can shake out of their boots in the morning, the service Big Hy provided was damn near Robin Hood-ish. 

He received numerous accolades from grateful service members, both enlisted and brass, which as you can see resulted in several areas of his home looking like a shrine to Apollo Creed’s fashion sense. “I love the smell of online piracy on a massive scale in the morning.”

Strachman could hardly claim senility or ignorance as an excuse since he always made sure to cover his tracks by quickly destroying the master discs once the replication process was complete, and keeping no copies for himself. 

He also claimed to have never once fabricated anything store-bought and to have begun his bootlegging career by buying knockoffs from the vendors at NYC’s Penn Station. He said that his motivation for all of this came from both a missed sense of camaraderie that developed during his time spent in the Pacific theater during WWII and out of a need for something to occupy his time after his wife passed away. 

So he bought himself some professional-grade equipment, maybe took a class or two at a nearby learning annex, then grew out his fingernails like a sassy receptionist in order to more easily separate the hundreds of discs he began copying each day. 

And again, he knew full well what he was doing, and was crystal clear about the risks involved. But he was also aware that the authorities probably weren’t too thrilled about the PR nightmare that likely would have ensued if they came down too hard on him, as made evident during this interview with Alan Schwarz of the New York Times: “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.”

“Not to say that I wouldn’t know how to shank a bitch.” Big Hy’s son thinks that his dad’s admittedly shady hobby did wonders for his mental well-being, and gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. 

Movie industry insiders weren’t nearly as pleased, however, claiming (rightfully) that these activities take money away not just from wealthy actors and directors, but also from the blue-collar types working behind the camera.

But before you start lamenting for all the starving key grips and best boys wandering the wastelands of downtown Burbank, you should realize a couple of things here.

First, it’s not like troops stationed in places like Afghanistan would have been buying movie tickets anyway, unless there’s some hidden IMAX multiplex in a Tora Bora cave that nobody talks about. 

And frankly, Hy did the job that the movie industry should have been doing all along. See, studios actually do donate films to the military, but it’s always in reel-to-reel, projector-only form.

This makes their product more difficult to copy, but also ignores the fact that just about everyone in a war zone nowadays would much rather watch movies on their laptops. 

You know, since a “theatergoing experience” in some places is sometimes just another way of saying “target-rich environment.”

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