When you think of movie piracy, invariably images of file sharing on torrent sites and guys hawking cellphone camera copies of movies on disc outside convenience stores springs to mind – but what if we told you one of the world’s biggest movie pirates was a 92-year-old man living in an apartment in Long Island, New York? That would be pretty surprising, right? It would probably surprise you even more to learn that the movie industry appears to have no intention of going after him.
Hyman “Big Hy” Strachman is a 92-year-old veteran who served in World War II. At an age when most seniors have trouble figuring out how to work the remote to their television set, Big Hy runs a bootlegging operation out of his apartment that would make the average online pirate envious. Big Hy scores copies of the latest movies from bootleggers selling discs around his home, takes them to his apartment, and burns up to seven copies at a time. How does he get away with it? Because he sends the discs to soldiers overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Strachman, who’s the focus of a very cool New York Times article -- started his operation years ago, after his wife died. Filled with free time, the former soldier started perusing websites where soldiers asked for care packages from home. A common request was for DVD movies.
Big Hy found his calling and began burning discs and shipping them overseas (at his own expense). He finds the newest movies available – titles often still in theaters – and burns them to blank discs before stuffing them in prepaid envelopes and shipping them off to exotic locales where the men and women of our armed forces are stationed. His efforts are appreciated by soldiers, if not the motion picture industry, as the binders full of thank you letters and pictures demonstrate.
While Big Hy knows that bootlegging is illegal, and acknowledges that if he were younger he might be looking at spending some time in prison, he operates under the belief that what he’s doing serves a greater good. Studios regularly send traditional reel-to-reel films and projectors to bases, but the DVDs allow soldiers to connect with the things they’re missing at home on their own schedule.
Luckily, any legal concerns seem likely to fade away for the spry senior. With troop withdrawals set for Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be a day soon where Big Hy can finally retire his DVD burners and find a new hobby. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a good problem to have.