When we think of bootleggers, most of us conjure images of shadowy Megaupload fanatics, or the shady characters lining Canal Street with their suitcases full of misspelled DVDs. Probably the absolute last person to come to mind would be a 92-year-old Jewish WWII vet from Long Island, but that’s what makes this story in today’s New York Times so spectacular.
For the last handful of years, Hyman Strachman has been bootlegging popular Hollywood films and sending them off free of charge to American troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the troops interviewed for the story, Mr. Strachman, known lovingly as “Big Hy,” has become somewhat of a folk hero to the thousands of soldiers who see the films he sends as a necessary link to back home.
Big Hy is perhaps the most endearing person in the universe and says stuff like “You had to use your noodle!” and “I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.” So…feel good story of the year, right?
Sure, except for the fact that Mr. Strachman is actually violating copyright laws to bring joy to soldiers. “It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” he told the New York Times.
Mr. Strachman’s story is inspiring not only because of its feel-good element, but also because it puts a human face on the copyright debates. How silly and unimportant does copyright law seem in the context of a 92-year-old veteran just trying to deliver a piece of home to other soldiers?
The MPAA probably won’t go after Mr. Strachman–because of his age, because of his veteran status, and because he’s decided to stop his production due to the fact that most soldiers have been brought home. But his story is worth remembering: not every bootlegger is out to make a buck. Some just want to make other people happier, if only for the running time of The Hangover.