DVD Pirate Supports Troops, America, Freedom
The New York Times recently ran a profile of Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old World War II veteran who has spent the past eight years copying DVDs and sending them to American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Strachman – or “Big Hy,” as he is known to the troops – buys bootleg copies of current releases and makes dozens of copies, which he sends to chaplains for circulation (chaplains travel widely and don’t sell the disks, making them excellent channels for distribution). Over the past eight years, Strachman estimates he has sent out more than 300,000 movies, which the Times estimates cost him over $30,000.
A more sympathetic poster-child for bootlegging you couldn’t find. Strachman, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the main character in the movie Up, began copying movies as a hobby after the death of his wife, and says that the thank you notes he receives from soldiers give him a feeling of camaraderie he hasn’t felt since his time in the service. “I can think of no one more deserving than you, and no one who understands what this flag stands for and means to our veterans,” reads one note, accompanying a flag from a combat mission in Afghanistan.
But the fact that Strachman’s situation is exceptional and heartwarming glosses over the MPAA’s main problem, which is that people just don’t care about movie piracy. It is particularly rampant among military personnel, whose inability to acquire content through legal downloading or streaming drives a thriving download culture, but even among Americans living domestically piracy is common. Nearly 50% of adults, and 70% of adults under thirty, have bought, copied, or downloaded content without authorization. Support for penalties beyond warnings and fines under $100 is low, including for many of the MPAA’s favored solutions such as high fines, government blocking of infringing materials, and surveillance of internet use. Hyman Strachman may be planning to stop his distribution system with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, but less charitably-minded copyright infringers will continue.