“It was moyda”

Here is a wonderful story.

Uniquely of its time, yet spanning maybe 4 generations, this tale of military solidarity and comradeship facilitated by a 92 year old New Yorker illegally copying Hollywood movies for the troops in Afghanistan tells us more about today’s content consumption landscape than you might think.

The tale, in short, is this. Hyman Strachman, a 92 year old WW2 veteran has been sending DVD copies of the latest Hollywood movies to troops on active duty. He has been doing this since 2004 and estimates that he has sent perhaps 300,000 illegal copies, usually to chaplains…..

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

……and at a personal cost of maybe $30,000. He makes no profit, and has not been challenged by the MPAA, largely, it is assumed, because the connection to the military and the inherent charitable nature of his actions would make it a PR nightmare.

His actions are clearly illegal as far as the law is written. This is unambiguously the copying of digital files, and in the eyes of the legislation is every bit as illegal as file sharing through P2P networks.

The comments, as ever, are as revealing as the article itself. Here you can find those that are as unwilling to ratify Mr Strachman, for the same reasons that they are offended by torrents and file sharing online. There are also those willing to make an exception for him, because of the context of his actions, although they still view torrents as illegal and improper, and then there are those that wish all copying were made legal. Somehow this story seems to have something for everyone.

For me what is most significant is what it reveals about the consumption behaviour of modern movie viewers.

Here’s the kicker. The movie industry already provide these films to the army for transmission to the troops, they don’t seem to have any problem with the troops seeing these movies for free, and good for them too.

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

But this whole thing happened because Mr Strachman, while spending time on a website where soldiers requested care packages, noticed that there were many requests for DVD’s.

So, while the studio’s continued to provide, for all the best of reasons, movies delivered via the mechanics of the old business model, the audience said clearly and unambiguously….thanks but no thanks could you send them to us in a more convenient form please….

And there are practical reasons why.

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

….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.

It’s a practical model of consumption made more poignant by the circumstances of war. For sure it is less noble that the civilian population want the same flexibility, well greater flexibility actually, in the consumption of their media. After all, the complications in their lives are fundamentally different to the complications of soldiers under mortar fire. But if this is a model they are willing to pay for then it is certainly not ignoble.

It is in fact a market demand, and one that currently has a scarce landscape with few suppliers.

Perhaps it takes a 92 year old hero, doing something so selfless that he can only be admired, even though it is illegal, to demonstrate this truth, this market demand, without having the commentary soured by accusations of theft and piracy.

I’m not saying anything here that you wouldn’t find in a dozen blog posts on the future of business models for content production and dissemination.

I do, however, think that Mr Strachman’s marvellous example makes it easier to see the value of a more convenient distribution and consumption paradigm and indicates areas where we should explore the potential for monetisation in more depth.


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