With all the talk about take-down notices, SOPA, PIPA and piracy issues, search engines and social networks are bound to be found asking themselves, “Which companies are most aggressively pursuing pirates?” It may not be, as many assume, the big  studios like Warner Brothers, Universal, or Sony. According to an analysis of copyright complaints lodged with Twitter,  Magnolia Pictures, a New York film distributor is responsible for a third of the take-down requests to the popular social media operation. The movie firm even contract out this work to a third party outfit, Web Sheriff, which sends take-down notices to companies like Twitter, file-sharing sites, fan forums and other sites where pirated material may lurk. Surprised? There also may be more to take-down notices than meets first glance:

As many companies know, there is a fine line between appearing too aggressive with take-downs and sound, business-like monitoring of pirated material.  Further, deleting all material from the web may not prove to be the best marketing strategy as the best way to advertise a product, especially in this internet era, may be by word of mouth, or should we say by means of electrons and the masses.

So if a pirate or just a zealous fan posts a new favorite song as a YouTube link from a Twitter feed, should talent, counsel or companies aggressively seek to take that tune down?

The CEO of Rovio, maker of Angry Birds, the popular video and cell phone game, recently remarked how piracy can benefit copyright holders, arguing, “It can get us more business at the end of the day.” Legendary musician Neil Young echoed that point, explaining that piracy leads fans to discover new works and this eventually leads them to buy content from copyright holders. Comedian Louis CK recently showed how an innovative approach can work when he offered a stand-up special in a downloadable format, free of restrictions, directly to fans for $5 on his website. He reportedly made more than $1 million dollars in a few days.

Although many big studios work with third parties that take charge of firing off take-down notices, many social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, have automated DMCA forms and procedures that companies can use to combat pirated material from being shared on the site. Facebook also has a counternotice form for appeals on take-down claims. A typical take-down notice from Twitter contains links to Tweets that in turn link to websites where pirated versions of copyrighted material is distributed. Attempting to locate the actual Tweet from the notice invariably leads to a Twitter.com note, saying, “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!” Movies, music, footage of cricket matches and stolen photographs of an actress in states of undress have all inspired DMCA notices. Certain copyrighted material could be exempt under fair use – – for example, a short quotation from copyrighted material may legally be used, and use for purposes of satire or parody is also legally protected.

Perhaps the takedowns and pirate frenzy may be sending a different message. Many users feel that it is content providers’ inability to adapt quickly to changing revenue structures that promote web piracy.  When Fred Wilson, a prominent New York venture capitalist who has backed Twitter and Zynga, wanted to watch the New York Knicks game last month, he found that Time Warner Cable was not showing the game because of a contract dispute. But like millions of  Americans, he had access to the internet and in minutes was streaming the game illegally on his big-screen TV. “It’s not that we don’t want to pay for our sports entertainment,” Wilson stated, “But last night we were turned into ‘pirates,’ as the entertainment industry likes to call us.”

This online meme shows how frustrated users can turn to piracy when the show they want to watch is unavailable for free, instant viewing. In a world where internet-raised users expect instant gratification, many content providers have moved at a glacial pace with new technology. Major studios, including Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures, unveiled a studio-direct, streaming cloud service called UltraViolet late last year, hoping to get movies to viewers faster; consumers have yet to warm to this distribution channel.