When you think of the guys who sell pirated videos, you might conjure up an image of men with long coats and briefcases filled with illegal goods, peddling their wares on dark streets or from the trunks of their cars. But you haven’t met 92-year-old Hyman “Big Hy” Strachman.“You’re shocked because your initial image is of some back-alley Eastern European bootlegger — not an old Jewish guy on Long Island,” Captain Bryan Curran, who recently returned from Afghanistan, told the New York Times.
The Times ran a touching profile of Strachman, a World War II veteran and prolific movie bootlegger who over the last eight years has sent more than 300,000 popular Hollywood films to troops overseas.
“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Strachman told the Times.
Born and raised in Brooklyn in 1920 to Polish immigrants, Strachman worked as a stockbroker on Wall Street (“there were no computers, you had to use your noodle”) and retired in the early ‘90s. After losing his wife of more than 50 years in 2003, he found comfort in sending care packages of copied DVDs to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Strachman doesn’t copy store-bought DVDs, just cheap bootlegs which he picks up at his barbershop. He spends his days feeding in blank DVDs he purchases himself into a professional duplicator, and then ships a box of 84 discs off to an Army chaplain overseas. The DVDs are distributed to service members free of charge. Strachman’s walls are covered with notes and flags of appreciation sent to him by troops overseas.
Hollywood studios are probably not pleased with his operation — the industry loses billions to illegal copying each year and devotes significant effort to fighting it — but as the Times notes, Strachman’s operation puts them in some difficulty:
Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said he did not believe its member studios were aware of Mr. Strachman’s operation. His sole comment dripped with the difficulty of going after a 92-year-old widower supporting the troops.
“We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home,” Mr. Gantman said.
To “minimize his malfeasance,” as the Times puts it, Strachman says he destroys every original disc after he copies it and keeps no copies for himself. He notes, however, that his bootlegging days may be coming to an end, and for the best of reasons: more and more troops are sent home each year.