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At 92, Movie Bootlegger Is Soldiers’ Hero (nytimes.com)
243 points by aaronharnly on Apr 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

This enrages me. Unequal application of law is an injustice to everyone. How can teenagers be bankrupted and have their future damaged by sharing a few MP3s via P2P yet this guy can bootleg 300,000 current release movies and the industry hardly flinches? This guy gets a free pass because he's old? Because he's supporting US troops? Bullshit.

When kids can have their future ruined because their situation doesn't "warm your heart" and this guy can bootleg for 5 years you know the system is broken.

Note: I'm not defending USA's IP laws. They are very, very broken.

It's civil law; they only sue if they want to. Which is good, since a lot of times a lawsuit isn't the best way to solve an issue (for example, in GPL violation cases the FSF often gets the infringer to comply without suing).

Hollywood can't even provide a convenient solution for overseas American troops to enjoy a favorite American past time. The same American troops that are helping protect the lives of the Americans that watch all of Hollywood's entertainment offerings.

At least they've (so far) decided to let this guy do some good without going after him.

Hollywood is not very helpful, but man, AAFES (who provides rec centers home and abroad) plus AFN (Armed Forces Network) do a pretty bang-up job keeping the servicemembers at least somewhat in touch with sporting events, films, things to whittle away the time stuck over in some hellhole. Also noteworthy are the little Korean laundry ladies who take your laundry bag, clean your filthy gear, and then offer you pirated DVDs as well for only $5. :)

“We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home,” Mr. Gantman said.

I really hope the MPAA decides that they can let one slip. The real interesting thing is what the politicians will say. It's a catch 22 if I've ever seen one. (Can't be mad, he's helping the troops, can't be happy, he's doing something "illegal".) The answer is that something like this shouldn't be illegal, but who knows if that'll ever happen.

Probably the best thing to do, IMO, is to simply not talk about it. If I was a politician caught in such a catch 22, if feasible, I'd try to pretend I'd never heard of it.

"I don't recall"... sounds familiar.

>At least they've (so far) decided to let this guy do some good without going after him.

I take issue with that. I don't want to see this guy face prosecution by any means, but selective enforcement is a great evil and a tool of virtually every tyranny that ever existed. If what he does is right, then the law is fucking wrong and needs changing yesterday.

Ehm, selective enforcement by the state most certainly can be a problem, I cannot, however, see how selective enforcement by people or companies (who, in civil law, are always free to sue or not to sue for whatever reasons) is bad or can even be considered selective enforcement in any way.

It’s a pretty central part of civil law, actually (making sure – at least in theory – that only if two parties absolutely cannot agree on their own, the legal system has to kick in), and I think it would be downright evil to require people to always sue everyone.

Even state attorneys can pick and chose (to some extent), but to avoid arbitrariness they have to have good reasons for what they do, who they decide to prosecute and not to prosecute. They can’t decide not to prosecute for arbitrary reasons. (I know that’s the case in Germany, I think that's the case in the US, please correct me if I'm wrong.)

This is pretty clearly criminal not just civil. Remember he is stealing from MPAA members and exporting the stolen goods to a foreign country.

The US is supposed to be a "country of laws,not men." That means it is NOT supposed to be up to the opinion of one person whether an act is legal or not. What is legal needs to be decided by our elected officials.

Anyone who wants to see copyright fixed should be pushing to see this blatant scofflaw thrown in jail, maybe that would focus some attention on the problem.

I believe there could be some solution to the US IP legal problems both for patents and copyrights. Have you ever wondered how bands are allowed to "cover" other bands songs, even record and sell those covers? They do not need to seek permission because US law says the owner of the copyright must grant a license to whoever wants to cover the music:


The license fee is 1 1/2 cents per minute of recording per copy.

Rather than having completely uncapped damages at stake I can imagine some form of compulsory licensing for patents would stop all this wasted effort on patent lawsuits

Copyright infringement can be a criminal offense. See: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html#506 And in particular:

> if the infringement was committed [...] by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000

So his infringement might be criminal, depending on how much he actually did.

At least they've (so far) decided to let this guy do some good without going after him.

This actually presents a really big challenge to the MPAA. By not actively protecting their copyright (which they aren't if they let this guy off the hook or turn a blind eye) they risk losing other cases because of it. At the same time, if they go after this guy they look awful.

What? You don't have to actively protect copyright. You're thinking of trademarks.

I think you're right in the fact that I'm confusing the two. However, it is still a slippery slope.

...no it's not.

Yes it is, because motives come into play. How does the individual who doesn't profit from copyright infringement harm the MPAA any less than somebody who profits? The MPAA and RIAA claim that they lose all this money and that piracy is wrong, yet by not taking action against somebody pirating a boatload of movies it sends a message that motives are everything.

MPAA / RIAA are weighing the cost of prosecution vs. the potential for any return / reward. If they were to prosecute and even successfully win, what would they get out of it? Certainly no financial reward as there's none there. A Publicity success? I doubt it. A ruling that serves as a deterrent? I think not.

They have bigger fish to fry - legitimate pirate networks that are making millions. This is simply not worth their time, and they don't have much to lose by "letting him get away with it" as there's no active defense required to maintain copyright, and no legal precedence they are setting that lessens their ability to prosecute in other cases.

The obvious thing for the MPAA to do is to start doing it themselves -- voluntarily send free discs to overseas units.

Yeah, you'd think they get positive PR if they sent free DVDs with pre-recorded messages from the stars before the movie.

"Hi i'm Tom Cruise and I, and everyone else at Sony Pictures, want to thank you for your service. Enjoy the show!"

I wonder how many people would find it odd if Sony a Japanese company did that. I know their a multinational and all MGM seems like a more natural fit.

Japan is pretty clearly part of the imperial US having ceded all military protection to the US.

Have you ever heard anyone in government use the acronym CONUS? It is supposed to stand for Contiguous United States: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contiguous_United_States#CONUS....

But it is more commonly used opposed to "United States Interests at home and abroad" - i.e. the imperial United States

Sony Pictures, not Sony. While it indeed is part of the Japanese conglomerate, it was founded in 1987 as Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc., and renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. in 1991. So, it basically is a wholly owned US subsidiary.

Congratulations, you've just described V-Discs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-Disc

They would flood the "market" with dvd's missing the last ten minutes. This would force people into buying commercial complete versions just to find out what happened.

Kinda like breeding and releasing a bunch of sterile invasive pests to outnumber what you want to get rid of.

Except they can do nothing and not be seen in a negative or positive light. The PR boost from doing it would be most-likely minimal; so financially not doing anything is the smarter move.

Agreed. But let's be honest. Has the MPAA ever cared about looking awful? :)

Yes, they have, and they don't go around stepping on their dick on purpose. This guy is safe. And that's a problem.

He should be prosecuted, if the law is just.

You don't need to protect copyright or lose it, your thinking of trademarks.

Something about this story just warms my heart. Particularly image # 7: A 92 y.o. veteran leaning over his flat-screen monitor, performing a labour of love for his comrades thousands of miles away.

With an old-fashioned alarm clock on his desk.

Actually, the images are really nice. Pity they don't provide hi res (I'd pay). You don't see photo stories like this too often now.

This chap reminds me of the volunteer hospital visitors we have in the UK. People go into their local hospital (known to staff) and just sit with the ones who have no visitors that day and engage them a little.

I'd hardly be described as sentimental, but it's the small things like this that give me hope for humanity.

It's amazing, the things we can do to-or for-one another.

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

What an odd quote. It seems like he thinks it was the right thing to do (as do some of the recipients), or he wouldn't continue to spend so much time and effort doing so.

I think he's more acknowledging it's not the "right" thing to do as in the legal thing to do, but he understands that beyond the law, it's the moral right thing to do.

An excellent example of the distinction between malum in se vs malum prohibidum. It seems that he is acknowledging that what he did is prohibited, yet he also feels that the act is not wrong in itself.

I think he's alluding to the (in this case, unfortunate) difference between moral and legal rightness. Whenever there's a large difference between actions prescribed by these, there's a problem either with the law, because it has to mirror current communal understanding of morality.

I think he was contrasting what he knew was legally wrong with what he felt was personally or morally right.

"I don't have the right to do it, but it is the right thing to do"

And since when do people always do the right thing?

I generally don't have time to read enough of the news to find gems like this so I love the fact that I can come to Hacker News and catch a little bit of everything. I know this has been said before and contributes little to the conversation but it's nice to see stories like this along with everything else.

Seems like such a simple thing for the movie studios to do - legally - and generate some positive PR for a change... but no.

The military actually does run it's own movie theater chain. I'm not sure who pays for it, but the showings are free. Although I think the movies are released a month or two after the normal release date. And I doubt that the military actually has a theater somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan


Actually a lot of the bases had movie theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan (not the little 10-1000 person bases, but the big ones like Balad, Bagram, etc. which have >10k people).

they did mention that they send reels and projector but I suppose that's a long time after the release.

It also must be much harder to actually watch reel-to-reels. You can just pop a DVD into any computer at any time without worrying about the additional logistics of space, trained projector operators, and time constraints.

I was a protectionist during college and your number one enemy with film is dust and dirt. I would imagine the prints would be unwatchable after a dust storm in Iraq.

do people actually refer to celluloid movie prints as "reel-to-reel"? i suppose the term is technically accurate, but i've never heard it used for anything other than the pre-cassette magnetic tape audio format (or i suppose very occasionally its data-tape derivatives).

Ironically, this story would itself make a great movie. One can only imagine how much this old man, who our society would write-off as "no longer productive", raised the morale of our troops who were otherwise lonely from their families.

For the amount of money spent on the war, the DOD could have purchased the rights to the films and made their own copies to distribute to the troops.

If the DoD had tried to purchase DVD distributions rights, Hollywood would have insisted on some sort of DRM so the DVDs could only be played on military-owned computers located outside of the United States. That would have been, er, doubleplusunconvenient.

I wasn't alive then, so this probably me romanticizing, but the Hollywood of the WWII era I grew up learning about would have been sending these films over to the troops on their own.

There were the WWII Armed Service Editions: "Over the life of the program, over 123 million copies of 1,322 titles were printed. This makes the ASE program one of the largest wide-scale distributions of free books in history."

Even if they were doing so, the situation was very different. You couldn't easily copy movies, and either way, people in general weren't as dependent on Hollywood entertainment as they are now.

My broader point is that there's a lot of talk surrounding the legal/piracy implications of what this man is doing, and yes, the world is far different now that it was some 70 years ago, but in his era a comparative act to this - if there is one - wouldn't have been met with nearly as much (potential) "controversy" I think. Hollywood used to do quite a lot to show it's support to the armed services/government. (Disney sidelined projects to work on what was essentially free propaganda films among many others)

I'm surprised that after 75 comments nobody remarked this quote:

"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.

I may not be so familiar with the north american culture, can anybody clarify this for me: Is it a generally accepted fact that bootleggers are east europeans and old jews would never do such a thing?

Big-time organized bootlegging/piracy is often associated with communist and former communist areas (Russia, China, the Ukraine, etc.) in popular consciousness. Not just in terms of movies, but in terms of knockoff Rolex watches, Coach bags, and so on. It's some combination of low respect for capitalism, high corruption, pockets of general lawlessness, cheap labor, and powerful criminal organizations.

I certainly have a hard time picturing my 90 year old, very religious, WWII American Veteran grandpa being interested in piracy.

The best part.. he sends to the _chaplain_ to then distribute to the troops! He starts with purchasing boot leg from vendors on the street. That made me say "NO!...". Is it wrong of me to want to step in and show him how to do it right?

This was great story.

I'm curious as to what's going to happen now, being that he's admitting to copyright infringement on page A1 of the New York Times....

The editors at the Times know what they're doing. This pretty much makes him untouchable.

"Movie industry sues WWII vet for boosting troop morale."

What a lovely man.

Ironically this would be perfectly legal if the army was doing it.

Recently a musician attempted to sue the Army for its use of his music played at very high volumes to 'interrogate' prisoners at Guantanamo. The case was rejected because the US government has a blanket right to use any US copyright material for national security.

So the Army is presumably free to pirate all the copies of 'Two and a Half Men' it needs to keep it's troops in a fighting mood.

I searched Lexis and think you're probably mistaken. There's no such law but also no such case.

I agree, the GP is thinking of this news story: http://www.billboard.com/news/pearl-jam-r-e-m-trent-reznor-c...

I don't think a lawsuit was ever filed. At the time there was speculations as to whether it was considered a public performance and whether it was considered US jurisdiction for copyright.

"Any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his or her official capacity, shall not be immune [...] for a violation of any of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner" 17 U.S.C. § 511 http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html#511

No such law, in fact explicitly no sovereign immunity.

I think it's a more general principle of "if we say it's a matter of national security we can do whatever we want"

If you don't agree you are perfectly at liberty to be held indefinitely without trial and be tortured.

I don't remember the latin term but it's approximately "look what a big stick we have"

Even if it weren't the military doing it, how would playing a recording at high volumes in this manner be copyright infringement?

If a group of people heard it could be considered a public performance, something not permitted by most licenses to music that we purchase.

In the UK the relevant authorities have I suppose purchased a music playback licence. Cafes and community centres have them. It isn't a big cost.

was this musician John Tesh, by any chance.

Deicide's Fuck Your God was used in American prisons in Iraq. Metallica's Enter Sandman was and still is used in Gitmo as far as I know. AC/DC and Barney have been used as well. Psyops doesn't leave scars so it's not torture, naturally.

Multiple Sources: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=music+played+at+gitmo

Why the lmgtfy link? Why not just post a Google link?

Don't remember. I know it wasn't Michael Bolton because he is banned by the Geneva convention

I think this is the first time I've upvoted a joke at HN.

Well this guy makes a much better hero than the fucking ridiculous Kim Dotcom.

You don't think that soldiers watched MegaVideo too?

Or downloaded new music from MegaUpload?

Just because the New York Times didn't write a story about it, doesn't mean it didn't happen.

I don't think Kim's mansion in NZ and ridiculous antics were his way of helping out soldiers overseas.

I'm sorry but war should never be comfortable or have entertainment.

Don't feel good for him doing this while we can shop at the mall.

The solution is those people should be watching it at home in the comfort of their own homes.

When we have a draft for every military action declared by a single person in charge, then I'll change my mind.

In a volunteer army, these people serve by choice (albeit perhaps not always for altruistic reasons). It is also the choice of this fellow to make their horrible experiences less so. While certainly I don't support endless war, I think this story is an uplifting one - a singular act of selfless kindness to add humanity to what is otherwise an inhumane situation. Certainly no one is coercing or paying him to do that. In fact, quite the opposite.

Many of the people go into the army to get a college education because their parents or they can't afford it compared with perhaps most of the readers of HN whose parents paid their way....

It's pretty horrible to make someone decide they need to go to war to pay for their education.

How about giving the well-off the same risk by enacting the draft for all college students when we decide to go to war?

Bet we wouldn't be in another war this century.

Guess again - war is a huge business. And it's very complicated. You'd be surprised how much of the US economy is derived from waging and supporting war. If you were to take that away, the cost would be surprising economic depression and joblessness. Way too many businesses are in the direct or indirect business of supporting war-faring. And that's terribly unfortunate, but a reality.

Forcing the draft won't do anything to stop war making. You'd have to remove the economic incentive, and that's too painful for anyone to do. Indeed, a Senator would probably sacrifice their own son if it meant keeping the coffers filled.

Perhaps that's worth the cost, but at this point, I would hesitate to say that it is a Complex Problem, which would necessitate a Complex Solution. Intractable, maybe?

He's making it more comfortable to go to war - both for the recipient and for us on our comfy chairs knowing someone did this for them.

Enact the draft for EVERY military action. It's only fair.

I know these are not popular opinions but they are true.

Where are the people sending DVDs to people in the peace corp? They make far less than people in the military.

Obama promised to promote the peace corp and I've never seen one ad, but plenty for the military.

As a 92 year old veteran with not much more life to live, I don't think that's how he's thinking about it. He understands what it's like to be in a terrible war and is doing what he can to at least make life livable.

Regardless of what you think of stupid wars, and yes they are all stupid with very few exceptions, we are all still human. And showing humanity in the face of inhumanity is not a bad thing.

Yeah, war really sucks, but I'd focus the vitriol on those who are getting us into these stupid wars, not the 92 year olds who are trying to be human to poor 18 year olds who went to war to pay for college or because they couldn't get a job.

> Obama promised to promote the peace corp and I've never seen one ad, but plenty for the military.

Perhaps because the Peace Corps isn't such a tough sell (you aren't going to war!), so they don't need to advertise to expand. Just more funding. Obama has increased the Peace Corps budget and as such there are more participants. I'm sure they receive plenty of DVDs from their loved ones.

Also most of my friends who did Peace Corps didn't even have electricity for two years. I don't know how they did it.

BTW, nothing is stopping you from sending DVDs to people in the Peace Corp. Maybe you should do that and be a force for good?

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