Major Movie Pirate Is A Good-Intentioned Nonagenarian
When the topic of movie piracy comes up, the blame is often thrown at "kids today," who have a sense of entitlement and internet savvy that make them the scourge of Hollywood as they pirate movies and make them illegally available to the public, thwarting studios from their box office bounty. It's all very dramatic. Yet the story of one of the world's most egregious—and unapologetic—movie bootleggers is actually downright charming.
The New York Times uncovered the story of Big Hy, a pirate who freely admits he's been burning thousands of DVDs each month for the past eight years to distribute movies that are currently in theaters. “It’s not the right thing to do," Big Hy acknowledges, "But I did it.” Yet for all his transgressions against Hollywood, no charges have ever been pressed for Big Hy's high-volume piracy. And that definitely has to do with who he is behind his handle, and his motives.
Turns out, Big Hy is the nickname of five-foot-five New Yorker Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old World War II vet who looks like the crotchety protagonist of Up and took up movie piracy not long after his wife Harriet passed in 2003. This was when Strachman found a website where American soldiers abroad could put in requests for care packages, and noted many of the requests were for movies. So, Strachman, tapping into a sense of military camaraderie for the soldiers at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, bought DVDs of pirated movies from Penn Station or his local barbershop, burned one copy at a time on his home computer, and sent them to the troops.
However, this soon proved to slow for demand, or as Strachman in his thick old-school New York accent put it, "It was moyda.” So, he upgraded to a professional duplicator device that burned seven discs at a time, and began burning hundreds a day. From there, he sends them out addressed to Chaplains whenever possible, because, he explains, "Chaplains don’t sell them, and they fan out. The distribution is great.”
But what's been really great is the response from the troops. As Strachman keeps no copies of the DVDs for himself, once he's shipped them out, the only evidence of his crimes that resides in his Long Island home is the plethora of mementos and notes sent from grateful soldiers. Captain Bryan Curran, who was formerly stationed in Afghanistan, spoke warmly of Big Hy, saying, "He would time [the DVDs arrival] with the movie’s release — whenever a new movie was just in theaters, we knew Big Hy would be sending us some." But a note accompanying a combat mission flag sent to Big Hy from Afghanistan expresses an even deeper appreciation, it reads, "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.”
Strachman is happy to give any relief to the soldiers serving overseas, but hopes for a day when the troops will be back home, and he'll have a wonderful reason to find a new hobby. In the meantime, Big Hy will continue to buy bootleg movies, blank DVDs, and postage—a process that has already cost him upwards $30,000 according to the Times estimates—to bring a little bit of home to the troops on foreign soil.
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