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At 92, a Bandit to Hollywood but a Hero to Soldiers

The New York Times

 


April 26, 2012

At 92, a Bandit to Hollywood but a Hero to Soldiers

MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. — One of the world’s most prolific bootleggers of Hollywood DVDs loves his morning farina. He has spent eight years churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of “The Hangover,” “Gran Torino” and other first-run movies from his small Long Island apartment to ship overseas.

“Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the United States military presence in those regions dwindling, Big Hy Strachman will live on in many soldiers’ hearts as one of the war’s more shadowy heroes.

“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law.

“If I were younger,” he added, “maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.”

Capt. Bryan Curran, who recently returned from Afghanistan, estimated that from 2008 to 2010, Mr. Strachman sent more than 2,000 DVDs to his outfits there.

“You’re shocked because your initial image is of some back-alley Eastern European bootlegger — not an old Jewish guy on Long Island,” Captain Curran said. “He would time them with the movie’s release — whenever a new movie was just in theaters, we knew Big Hy would be sending us some. I saw ‘The Transformers’ before it hit the States.”

Jenna Gordon, a specialist in the Army Reserve, said she had handed out even more of Mr. Strachman’s DVDs last year as a medic with the 883rd Medical Company east of Kandahar City, where soldiers would gather for movie nights around personal computers, with mortar blasting in the background. Some knew only that the discs came from some dude named Big Hy; others knew not even that.

“It was pretty big stuff — it’s reconnecting you to everything you miss,” she said. “We’d tell people to take a bunch and pass them on.”

White-haired, slightly hunched and speaking in his Depression-era Brooklyn brogue (think Casey Stengel after six years of Hebrew school), Mr. Strachman explained in a recent interview that his 60-hour-a-week venture was winding down. “It’s all over anyways — they’re all coming home in the near future,” he said of the troops.

As he spoke, he was busy preparing some packages, filled with 84 discs of “The Artist,” “Moneyball” and other popular films, many of them barely out of theaters, to a platoon in Afghanistan.

As for his brazen violation of domestic copyright laws, Mr. Strachman nodded guiltily but pointed to his walls, which are strewed with seven huge American flags, dozens of appreciative letters, and snapshots of soldiers holding up their beloved DVDs.

“Every time I got back an emotional e-mail or letter, I sent them another box,” he said, adding that he had never accepted any money for the movies or been told by any authorities to stop.

“I thought maybe because I’m an old-timer,” he said.

In February, Mr. Strachman duplicated and shipped 1,100 movies. (“A slow month,” he said.) 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. Postage of about $11 a box, and the blank discs themselves, would suggest a personal outlay of over $30,000.

Born in Brooklyn in 1920 to immigrants from Poland, Mr. Strachman left high school during the Depression to work for his family’s window and shade store in Manhattan. He became a stockbroker on Wall Street — “When there were no computers, you had to use your noodle” — before retiring in the early 1990s.

After Mr. Strachman’s wife of more than half a century, Harriet, died in 2003, he discovered a Web site that collected soldiers’ requests for care packages. He noted a consistent plea for movie DVDs and wound up passing his sleepless nights replicating not only the films, but also a feeling of military comradeship that he had not experienced since his own service in the Pacific during World War II.

“I wouldn’t say it kept him alive, but it definitely brought back his joie de vivre,” said Mr. Strachman’s son, Arthur, a tax accountant in New York.

Mr. Strachman has never ripped a movie from a store-bought DVD and does not even know how; rather, he bought bootlegged discs for $5 in Penn Station before finding a dealer closer to home, at his local barbershop. Those discs were either recordings made illegally in theaters or studio cuts that had been leaked.

Originally, Mr. Strachman would use his desktop computer to copy the movies one tedious disc at a time. (“It was moyda,” he groaned.) So he got his hands on a $400 professional duplicator that made seven copies at once, grew his fingernails long to better separate the blank discs, and began copying hundreds a day.

Last month, in black grandpa shoes and blue suspenders that hoisted his trousers up to his sternum, Mr. Strachman and his spindly hands steered a master copy of “The Artist” into the machine, fed the seven other bays with blanks, and pressed “Record.” Six minutes later, in went “The King’s Speech.” Then “Moneyball.”

He eventually stuffed the maximum of 84 discs (12 titles, 7 each) into a United States Postal Service fixed-rate box, secured it with several yards of packing tape and scrawled out a packing slip for the Massapequa Park post office. The contraband, which he said could take up to three months to arrive, was addressed to an Army chaplain.

“Chaplains don’t sell them, and they fan out,” Mr. Strachman said. “The distribution is great.”

The movie studios are less enthusiastic. 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. And while Mr. Strachman’s movies were given to soldiers as a form of charity, studios do send military bases reel-to-reel films, which are much harder to copy, and projectors for the troops overseas.

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.

Careful to minimize his malfeasance, Mr. Strachman said he had kept no copies for himself and had destroyed every master disc soon after the new releases came in.

Before long, the sole evidence of his operation will be on his walls and on a little bookshelf, next to his cholesterol-control pills and a few envelopes of farina, where seven three-ring binders overflow with letters and pictures, most addressed to “Big Hy,” from appreciative soldiers.

“Our downtime is spent watching movies as we clean our weapons,” one handwritten note said.

Another accompanied a flag from a combat mission over Afghanistan: “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.”

The fun will stop soon, Mr. Strachman said. “I’m not sure who’s going to be left over there anymore,” he said, happier for the soldiers’ return than for his need to find another hobby.

And with that the duplicator beeped, spitting out seven more copies of “The Artist.”

Mr. Strachman scooped them out of their trays, put a rubber band around them and inserted the stack into a box, perhaps his very last.

 

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via At 92, Movie Bootlegger Is Soldiers’ Hero – NYTimes.com.

“Myself and a few friends were very angry that certain people only seem to want to profit from recordings like the Toy album, so when we saw the eBay auction and heard of someone else selling discs for $55, I decide to upload it and give it away,” Brigstow told TorrentFreak.

via Unreleased Bowie on BitTorrent: Pirate Sabotage Turned Cultural Blessing | TorrentFreak.

Q&A: Why money doesn’t motivate file-sharers | Interviews | News | PC Pro

 

Q&A: Why money doesn’t motivate file-sharers

Bank notes

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 8 Dec 2010 at 14:11

Piracy is so difficult to battle because file-sharers are motivated by altruism and not financial gain, according to one academic.

Joe Cox, an economist at the Portsmouth Business School, believes file-sharers who post content online see themselves as the “Robin Hoods of the digital age,” according to a study he’s published in the journal Information Economics and Policy.

Such insight could help drive policy and find ways to prevent illegal downloads, he claims. We spoke to him to find out more.

Q. Why did you decide to look at file-sharing?

A. A lot of the academic effort which has focused on file-sharing has been on lost revenues, to say how much the record industry and the film industry has lost as a result of people illegally downloading content.

 

I was more interested in the behavioural motivations. To me it seems pretty obvious why you might want to illegally download a music track or a film or a video game, but what I was really interested in is the people who make the content available in the first place, because there doesn’t seem to be much to be gained for them, at least not materially. They presumably already bought the material to make it available in the first place.

I called them seeders – it’s a pretty standard term for people who make the material available – distinguishing them from leechers, who just take material from others but don’t give any back. I’ve never seen anything published which looks at those two groups to look at their different motivations.

Q. What was the motivation for seeders?

A. For the leechers, pretty obviously, the major motivation was financial. They wanted to acquire music or films without paying for it because it was cheaper than going out to buy it.

What was interesting was the difference with the seeders, and it was quite apparent that financial motivations were nowhere near as prevelant; it was a kind of altruism.

Their main motivation was that they were seeking notoriety, peer recognition, peer esteem, some sort of feeling of getting one over on the system. It was a much richer tapestry of different things contributing to the decision to go ahead and make the content available.

Q. With that in mind, how should illegal sharing be prevented?

A. The survey data suggested there was a deep-seated belief that this type of activity shouldn’t be illegal, that there was no criminal act involved.

That makes it very hard to deter with advertising to suggest that you’re funding piracy, that you’re a cheap knock-off merchant, because they believe what they’re doing is morally right. And it’s these guys that record labels and movie studios are most interested in getting to. They’re the source.

Q. You’ve said the Digital Economy Act won’t work, so what do you suggest?

A. Technology has developed to such a point now that you can’t turn back the clock and you can’t change the digital revolution – it’s a bit like King Canute trying to halt the advance of the tides.

 

I think there needs to be a more radical rethink in how the arts and the creative industries are funded.

The phenomena of the record label and the movie studio pretty much come into their own in the 20th century and I think they are a 20th century phenomena. Before that opera, ballet, and music were funded on a system of patronage.

I think we need to consider potential funding from the public sector. Coming at this from an economics perspective – I’m an economist – we have a particular type of common good that we look at, called a public good.

 

I would argue that these days music and movies are public goods: you can’t really exclude people from using them

The characteristics of this are you can’t exclude people from enjoying the benefits of it if they don’t pay for it, and if any one person consumes the good it doesn’t affect anyone else’s ability to consume it too. Classic examples are things like street lighting or national defence.

I would argue that these days music and movies are public goods. You can’t really exclude people from using them. The internet is giving them the availability to share this material at will and it’s virtually impossible to stop that. And with the digital nature of material, you can make perfect reproductions and share it to others.

What economists say will happen if you have a public good and look to the free market, the market won’t provide any output because everyone will just look to free-ride, and not pay themselves. But if no-one pays the good doesn’t get produced.

Q. And public funding is the way to get around that?

A. With street lighting or national defence, these are things that government funds through taxation. It would probably be a bit radical to say the government should fund the creative industries through taxation, but there are creative ways knocking around at the moment.

For example, you could try introducing non-commercial use levies on iPods or DVD players. It’s a lump sum you would pay over and above the purchase price when you buy the device, with the understand that you’re going to use it to access digital content.

If that money was collected into a pot, it could be distributed to record labels and movie studios to give proper compensation to rights owners. And then there could be a relaxation on how people access the material. You could keep track of downloads to make sure the most popular artists get the most money.

 

 | TorrentFreak

 

Operation Payback has been without a doubt the longest and most widespread attack on anti-piracy groups, lawyers and lobbyists. Despite the massive media coverage, little is known about the key players who coordinate the operation and DDoS attacks. A relatively small group of people, they are seemingly fuelled by anger, frustration and a strong desire to have their voices heard.

operation paybackIn the last two months, dozens of anti-piracy groups, copyright lawyers and pro-copyright outfits have been targeted by a group of Anonymous Internet ‘vigilantes’ under the flag of Operation Payback.

Initially DDoS assaults were started against the MPAA, RIAA and anti-piracy company AiPlex Software because these outfits had targeted The Pirate Bay. Those DDoS attacks were later replicated against many other targets that have spoken out against piracy or for copyright, resulting in widespread media coverage.

Even law enforcement agencies showed interest in the operation recently. Last week CNET reported that an FBI probe is underway, and TorrentFreak personally knows of at least one court case against a person that was associated with the operation.

Besides covering the results of the DDoS attacks and website hacks, very little is known about the people who are part of the operation. Who are they? What do they want, and what are their future plans? In this article we hope to solve a few pieces of the puzzle.

After numerous talks with people who are actively involved in Operation Payback, we learned that there are huge differences between the personal beliefs of members.

We can safely conclude that this Anonymous group doesn’t have a broad shared set of ideals. Instead, it is bound together by anger, frustration and the desire to be heard. Their actions are a direct response to the anti-piracy efforts of pro-copyright groups.

Aside from shared frustration, the people affiliated with the operation have something else in common. They are nearly all self-described geeks, avid file-sharers and many also have programming skills.

When Operation Payback started most players were not looking to participate in the copyright debate in a constructive way, they simply wanted to pay back the outfits that dared to target something they loved: file-sharing.

Many of the first participants who set the DDoS actions in motion either came from or were recruited on the message board 4Chan. But as the operation developed the 4Chan connection slowly disappeared. What’s left today are around a dozen members who are actively involved in planning the operation’s future, and several dozen more who help to execute the DDoS attacks.

An Anonymous spokesperson, from whose hand most of the manifestos originated, described the structure of the different groups to us.

“The core group is the #command channel on IRC. This core group does nothing more than being some sort of intermediary between the people in that IRC channel and the actual attack. Another group of people on IRC (the main channel called #operationpayback) are just there to fire on targets.”

Occasionally new people are invited to join the command to coordinate a specific attack, but a small group of people remains. The command group is also the place where new targets are picked, where future plans are discussed, and where manifestos are drafted. This self-appointed group makes most of the decisions, but often acts upon suggestions from bypassers in the main IRC channel.

Now let’s rewind a little and go back to the first attacks that started off the operation in September.

The operation’s command was ‘pleasantly’ surprised by the overwhelming media coverage and attention, but wondered where to go from there. They became the center of attention but really had no plan going forward. Eventually they decided to continue down the road that brought them there in the first place – more DDoS attacks.

What started as a retaliation against groups that wanted to take out The Pirate Bay slowly transformed into an attack against anyone involved in anti-piracy efforts. From trade groups, to lawyers, to dissenting artists. Since not all members were actively following the copyright debate, command often acted on suggestions from the public in the main IRC channel.

What followed was an avalanche of DDoS attacks that were picked up by several media outlets. This motivated the group to continue their strategy. Anonymous’ spokesperson admitted to TorrentFreak that the media attention was indeed part of what fuelled the operation to go forward. But not without some strategic mistakes.

As the operation continued more trivial targets were introduced and the group started to lose sympathy from parts of the public. While targeting the company that admittedly DDoSed The Pirate Bay could be seen as payback by some, trying to take out Government bodies such as the United States Copyright Office and UK’s Intellectual Property Office made less sense. In part, these targets were chosen by anarchistic influences in the operation.

“I fight with anonops because I believe that the current political system failed, and that a system based on anarchy is the only viable system,” one member told TorrentFreak. “I encouraged them to go after political targets just because I like Anarchy.”

The Anonymous spokesperson admitted to TorrentFreak that mistakes were made, and command also realized that something had to change. The targets were running out and the attacks weren’t gaining as much attention as they did in the beginning. It was a great way to gather attention, but not sustainable. In fact, even from within the operation not everyone was convinced that DDoS attacks were the best ‘solution’.

“I personally don’t like the concept of violence and attacking, but violence itself does raise attention,” Anonymous’ spokesperson told TorrentFreak.

“Attacking sites is one side of the story, but this operation would finally have to serve a purpose, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. We all agree that the way things [abuse of copyright] are currently done, is not the right way.”

Last week command decided to slow the DDoS attacks down and choose another strategy, mainly to regain the focus of attention. It was decided that they would make a list of demands for governments worldwide. In a move opposed to the desires of the anarchic influences, command decided to get involved in the political discussion.

Copyright/patent laws have to change, they argued, and from the bat they were willing to negotiate. They called for scrapping censorship, anti-piracy lawsuits and limiting copyright and patent terms, but not getting rid of copyright entirely. Interestingly, there is also no word in the demands about legalizing file-sharing.

To some this new and more gentle position taken by Anonymous came as a complete surprise. We asked the spokesman of the group about this confusing message and he said that there are actually several political parties that already adopt a similar position, like the Pirate parties and the Greens in Europe.

However, according to the spokesman (who wrote the latest manifesto with other members in Piratepad) they consciously chose this set of demands. “Some of us have the vision of actually getting rid of copyright/patents entirely, but we are at least trying to stay slightly realistic.”

“What we are now trying to do, is to straighten out ideals, and trying to make them both heard and accepted. Nobody would listen to us if we said piracy should be legal, but when we ask for copyright lifespan to be reduced to ‘fair’ lengths, that would sound a lot more reasonable,” the spokesman told TorrentFreak.

The demands have been published on the Operation Payback site for nearly a week, but thus far the media coverage hasn’t been as great as when they launched their first DDoS. Some have wondered whether this is the right path to continue in the first place, as it may get in the way of groups and political parties that have fought for similar ‘ideals’ for years already.

The spokesman disagreed and said that Operation Payback has “momentum” now.

So here we are nearly two months after Anonymous started Operation Payback. The initial anger and frustration seems to have been replaced by a more friendly form of activism for the time being. The group wanted to have their voice heard and they succeeded in that. However, being listened to by politicians and entertainment industry bosses might take more than that.

 

Comic Book ‘Pirated’ On 4Chan, Author Joins Discussion… Watches Sales Soar | Techdirt

 

Paul Watson points us to yet another example of how engaging with fans of your work (even if, technically, they infringed on your copyrights) can lead to pretty happy outcomes for everyone. The basic details are that comic book artist Steve Lieber discovered that folks at 4chan had scanned in and uploaded every page of his graphic novel Underground. Now, the typical reaction is to freak out, scream “piracy,” whine about “losses” and demand that “something must be done.” But, in a world where obscurity is really a much bigger issue than “piracy,” another option is to actually engage with those fans who liked his work so much that they put in the effort to share it with the world. And that’s exactly what Lieber did. He went to the site and actually started talking about the work with the folks on 4chan (image from Paul):

Nice. But, what did it actually mean? Well, the day after he engaged with fans on 4chan, Lieber posted a blog post highlighting his sales. As he says, “pictures help us learn.”

But “piracy” is killing the ability to earn money, right?

 

Le Monde diplomatique – English edition

The Avatar activists are tapping into a very old language of popular protest. The cultural historian Natalie Zemon Davis reminds us in her classic essay “Women on Top” (2) that protesters in early modern Europe often masked their identity through dressing as peoples real (the Moors) or imagined (the Amazons) seen as a threat to the civilised order. The good citizens of Boston continued this tradition in the New World when they dressed as Native Americans to dump tea in the harbour. And African-Americans in New Orleans formed their own Mardi Gras Indian tribes, taking imagery from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, to signify their own struggles for respect and dignity (a cultural practice being reconsidered in HBO’s television series, Treme, by David Simon, about the post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans).

Yahoo! News

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – The first hour of the final season of ABC’s “Lost” has leaked online, and the reaction is not what industry insiders expected.

Though preview content for heavily serialized dramas such as “Lost” are typically and frantically consumed online by fans, the sixth season of the ABC hit has managed to build such an epic level of anticipation that many fans are doing the unthinkable: refusing to watch the leaks.

When the opening scene from the premiere popped up online after a fan promotion Friday, users of one popular social network site voted to “bury” the video.

“Why spoil it now?” wrote one fan with the moniker MyWhiteNoise. “I’d rather watch it in hi-def and surround sound than ruin the surprise and watch some (low-quality) video.”

To TV executives, such statements are like something from an alternative universe, the polar-bear opposite of how young, Web-savvy viewers typically respond to content. Fans usually embrace any short cut that skips the linear TV and advertiser-supported experience.

“We never had a show like ‘Lost’ before that had these kind of fans that love it so much that they don’t want to know what happens before the premiere,” said Michael Benson, co-executive vice president of marketing at ABC. “Fans feel like they own this thing, just like we do.”

On Monday, fan commitment was given an even greater test when the entire premiere episode appeared on YouTube. The video was taken from hand-held cameras discretely shooting during a fan screening on Oahu. The Hawaii event itself was a revelation — can any other TV drama rally 12,000 fans to an island in the South Pacific? Some flew in just to see the 44 minutes of video that ABC will air Tuesday night.

NOT INTERESTED

Yet when the inevitable YouTube copies appeared Sunday, many videos received only a few hundred hits as online fans registered their lack of interest in crummy bootlegs. “Are people so impatient that they would rather watch a cell phone camera version of the ‘Lost’ premiere than wait one day?” Kyool wrote on Twitter.

The lavishly shot “Lost” is the original Must-See HD drama. Yet for its final bow, ABC’s marketing effort has shown no new footage, which producers wanted to keep under wraps. Until last week, all trailers used material from previous seasons, which the ABC marketing team tried to turn into an advantage.

“We wanted to go back and retell the stories of the characters and the larger situation that they’re in,” said Marla Provencio, co-executive vice president of marketing at ABC.

Catching up viewers on the complicated drama has always been a big part of the network’s strategy with “Lost,” but never more so than this year. After a serialized drama peaks, its ratings usually fall in a downward trajectory as infrequent viewers perceive themselves to be further and further behind the story. Ratings for the season premiere of “Lost” have fallen each year since Season Two. Reversing that trend is a major challenge, and ABC has aired repeats (complete with on-screen pop-up information) and has circulated various forms of recap videos online.

Though viewers tend to tune in for a show’s last episode, the final season as a whole typically isn’t as fortunate. Industry estimates have “Lost” tracking about the same as last year, which would be a victory if the show manages to maintain its previous rating. But — as with the online reaction to the video leaks — ABC is hopeful that “Lost” will surprise.

“‘Lost’ is like ‘American Idol,’ it’s not your everyday show,” Benson said. “From the buzz we’re seeing right now, there’s an obsession with this show. So who knows?”