By Scott Brown
Updated October 24, 2006 at 09:31 PM EDT

If you’ve ever walked the streets of New York City, you’ve probably come to regard the sidewalk spreads of pirated DVDs as part of the city’s scruffy charm. They’re the hookers of the aughts, a colorful spill of lawlessness rainbowed across the otherwise-sanitized Disneyscape. And then there’s the product itself: The surprise of seeing The Prestige already professionally packaged (kind of — hey, is that an old Van Helsing shot slashed together with Newsies-era Christian Bale?) and ready to take home… the gambler’s thrill of finding out if the movie is actually watchable or so back-row shaky-cam that it induces epilepsy… good times.

Good times that are now officially over, it would seem. Mayor Bloomberg and the MPAA are stepping up the anti-piracy campaign with a ferocity that feels very late-’80s-drug-war: Doors broken down, buildings shut — dare we hope for a little water-boarding, now that we’ve dispensed with those namby-pamby Geneva Conventions? (“Just tell us where the Little Man master is, and all of this will go away.”)

Will it work? Maybe a little: The street trade will probably take ahit, and the pressure on landlords will have a modest effect. But Ican’t see it taking a toll on the larger business, which is goingonline, anyway: The overhead is too low, the hurdles too easy to clear,and the moral ambiguities just not ambiguous enough to stop NewYorkers, who see pirated DVDs the same way they see gypsy cabs: Not asparasites, but as useful, if irregular corpuscles in the city’sbloodstream.

Let’s face it: Sometimes a man needs him some Flicka at 3 a.m.And the market will furnish it. Unless the market is busy getting thecrap kicked out of it by the MPAA’s shadowy enforcement wing. In whichcase, I’ll watch Herculoids.

I turn the question over to the vox populi — is hammer-handedenforcement the way to stop piracy? And if so, should there bedifferent beatings administered for different movies stolen? Forinstance, I can’t see The Santa Clause 3 rating much more than a noogie. And while you’d think Handycamming Flags of Our Fathers would mean a trip to Gitmo, really, at this stage, shouldn’t they be paying the pirates a distribution fee?