Here at SEO Liverpool I’ve spent a lot of the day chatting with various people about duplicate content filters… do they exist or not? Well, the answer seems to be yes. BUT, as far as I can tell, there are no penalties for using duplicate content. The only problem is that the page with the best PageRank, will be the one to appear at the top of the search engine results, for a search matching a phrase, which is found on multiple pages. When you think about it, it makes sense. Effectively it means, “sure, go ahead, use duplicate content, but be aware that unless you have the best PageRank for a particular page, that content isn’t going to do you any good.” … which effectively stops people who are slapping up sites with the same content everyone uses, but doing very little to promote their sites, from getting top search engine placement. … and also explains why an original article, when submitted to a high PageRank article directory, results in the article directory being listed at the top of the search engine results for a matching phrase, above your original page containing “your” article.
So… you have several options…
1: Use freely available content, and know that your site is unlikely to get good search engine rankings, unless you heavily promote your pages and get them good PageRank.
2: Use freely available content and re-write it extensively.
3: Write your own, original, content for every page.
4: Use articles that very few other people will be using… from sources such as Article Underground (http://www.scamfree.com/articles/) as I’ve been recommending. If each page you create has 20 similar pages out there on the web, do some promotion, use the Article Underground blogs as announcement services, get your page to PR3 or 4, and your page will be the one at the top of those 20 pages in the search engine results.