Did you see the New York Times story on admitted counterfeiter Hyman Strachman, street name: “Big Hy?” Big Hy is not selling his bootleg DVD’s out of the trunk of his car in his hood or at Long Island flea markets.He’s sending them by the carton-load to US Troops overseas and he has been doing so for nearly ten years. Big Hy is not involved in an organized criminal enterprise–he’s a 92-yr old Jewish military veteran who spends his days and his disposable income making sure our soldiers get to see the movies that everyone at home is talking about–The Hangover, The King’s Speech, and Moneyball, just to name a few examples.
After Big Hy’s wife of 50 years, Harriet, passed away in 2003, he found himself on a website where soldiers could request care packages. He saw lots and lots of requests for movies and he decided that he could do something about that. He began tediously copying movies on his home computer one at a time and sending them to soldiers. Over time, his operation has become more sophisticated–he now has a duplicating machine and can make multiple copies in minutes. He has not kept an official count but guesses that he sent more than 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004. With postage of about $11 a box, and the blank discs themselves, it’s estimated that he spent more than $30,000 of his own money on this unique “outreach.”
Even the US movie industry can’t seem to get too mad at Big Hy for his work. 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 but provided this quote, which I can only imagine was carefully crafted by lawyers and PR folks who surely realize the outrage and bad karma that would rain down if they tried to stop the 92-yr-old bootlegging patriot: “We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home,” Mr. Gantman said.
Big Hy hasn’t totally given himself over to a life of crime–he doesn’t keep any copies for himself and he destroys the master disc after the new copies come in. He has seven three-ring binders overflowing with thank you letters addressed to “Big Hy” from grateful soldiers. His successful operation is necessarily winding down as the troops are coming home, but hopefully he can continue to use his prodigious talents and organizational skills for good. I’d hate for him to get bored in his retirement and end up in some kind of trouble.