Hyman Strachman is a pirate. But he doesn’t fly the Jolly Roger, drink rum, hop around on a pegleg with a cutlass tucked neatly into a cummerbund, board ships while yelling “aarrr!” or call anyone a ‘scurvy bilge rat.’ Rather, he buys DVDs, makes multiple copies of them using a ‘duplicator’ and ships them to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has not kept an official count but estimates that he topped 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004….
That sounds like massive copyright infringement to me. And it is. But Mr. Strachman is not going to be brought to justice any time soon. Not even by the MPAA:
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.
Mr. Strachman’s activity, if carried out by anyone else, for any other reason, would have brought the wrath of the Righteous Copyright Enforcers, sorry, the MPAA, on his head. But Mr. Strachman is doing it for ‘the boys over there,’ fighting for our freedom. So Mr. Gantman eases up, knowing well that if there is one line you do not cross, it is the one that would turn you into a non-supporter of the troops. (Except when you are going after retired generals speaking unfavorably about the conduct of wars overseas; then you load both barrels and fire.)
Of course, the studios have tried to help ‘our boys’ as well, ‘sending military bases reel-to-reel films…and projectors for the troops.’ The reason studios send ‘reel-to-reel films’ to military bases and not DVDs is that they are well aware that DVD-burners and laptops are a dime-a-dozen on bases, and that the young, just-above-teenaged soldiers who make up a sizable portion of the troops overseas are quite likely to respond to DVDs in precisely the same way that young, just-above-teenaged men and women in the US react to DVDs back home: They’d make copies of them or rip them and pass those on. The studios love ‘our boys,’ they just don’t trust them to observe the laws they are defending.
Note: As expected, the New York Times article linked to above uncritically parrots an MPAA talking point:
Although the most costly piracy now takes place online through file-sharing Web sites, the illegal duplication of copyright DVDs — usually by organized crime in Eastern Europe and China, not by retirees in their 90s in the American suburbs — still siphons billions of dollars out of the industry every year.
It would be extremely useful for the Times to tell us how these staggering ‘billions and billions‘ numbers are calculated. For I have no idea. It would also be a useful enhancement of this debate if once, just once, the Times might talk about how movie attendance is enhanced by the word-of-mouth buzz created by the presence of ‘pirated’ DVDs and torrented versions of movies. Just once.