One of the worldâ€™s most prolific bootleggers of Hollywood DVDs loves his morning farina. He has spent eight years churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of â€œThe Hangover,â€ â€œGran Torinoâ€ and other first-run movies from his small Long Island apartment to ship overseas.
â€œBig Hyâ€ â€” his handle among many loyal customers â€” 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 soldiersâ€™ hearts as one of the warâ€™s more shadowy heroes.
â€œItâ€™s not the right thing to do, but I did it,â€ Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law.
â€œIf I were younger,â€ he added, â€œmaybe Iâ€™d be spending time in the hoosegow.â€
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.
[b]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.
â€œEvery time I got back an emotional e-mail or letter, I sent them another box,â€ he said, adding that he had never accepted any money for the movies or been told by any authorities to stop.[/b]
â€œI thought maybe because Iâ€™m an old-timer,â€ he said.
In February, Mr. Strachman duplicated and shipped 1,100 movies. (â€œA slow month,â€ 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.
Born in Brooklyn in 1920 to immigrants from Poland, Mr. Strachman left high school during the Depression to work for his familyâ€™s window and shade store in Manhattan. He became a stockbroker on Wall Street â€” â€œWhen there were no computers, you had to use your noodleâ€ â€” before retiring in the early 1990s.
After Mr. Strachmanâ€™s wife of more than half a century, Harriet, died in 2003, he discovered a Web site that collected soldiersâ€™ requests for care packages. He noted a consistent plea for movie DVDs and wound up passing his sleepless nights replicating not only the films, but also a feeling of military comradeship that he had not experienced since his own service in the Pacific during World War II.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say it kept him alive, but it definitely brought back his joie de vivre,â€ said Mr. Strachmanâ€™s son, Arthur, a tax accountant in New York.
If some legal department on this planet ever decides to sue him for copyright infringment they will make me very angry. The record and publishing comanpanies everywhere should make it far more easier to give people who fight for their countries convenient access to media they wish to enjoy.