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What Does It Mean to Pirate Content from Other Sites?

Long, long ago, almost 4 years ago, now, we wrote about 5 places to find content for your legal blog. They were:

  1. Cases at the Supreme Court of the United States and circuit courts
  2. State supreme court cases and in the state’s appellate courts
  3. Local news outlets
  4. Hornbooks
  5. Other legal blogs

Let’s take a closer look at number 5: Other legal blogs. It’s time to talk about pirating content.

Pirate skull and crossbones

What is Pirating Content?

Pirating content is the legal marketing technique of looking at your competitor’s website and then covering the same topic on your own site.

We tend to refer to pirating content in two ways:

  1. Large scale pirating
  2. Pirating details

Large scale pirating content is basically doing keyword research. Say you’re a criminal defense firm, looking to add a new page to your site. You don’t know what to add, so you look at your lead competitor’s firm to find that they have a nice practice area page on white collar crime. That’s a good idea! You pirate their content by using it as a sort of template for your own, making sure (of course) not to copy and paste or create duplicative content.

Pirating details is much smaller, but happens more often. Say you already have a practice area page on insider trading. But it’s not performing very well in the search engine results page (SERP). You look up the top-ranking page to find that it includes a whole bunch of topics that you don’t cover: There’s tipper/tippee liability, separate sections for the classical and the misappropriation theory of insider trading, and even a discussion of Rule 10b5—1 Plans. You go back to your own page and include sections on all of these topics.

Is Pirating Content Permissible?

Very much so. In fact, effective online marketing relies on keyword research, which is the practice of keeping up and getting ahead of your internet competitors – something that dovetails pirating content in lots of ways.

For attorneys who are uneasy with the practice, think about the fallout if pirating content were not allowed: Once one law firm covers a topic on their site, is it off-limits to everyone else? If you have a practice area page on drug crime, or a blog post on comparative negligence and not wearing a seatbelt, can you demand that another law firm not host similar content? Of course not.

In fact, search engines quietly encourage the practice, though they might not call it “pirating.” It creates an arms race of content between competing websites, as they vie for traffic by adding new content. If some of that content was inspired by what was already on a competitor’s page, what of it? The end user, the search engine user and reader, benefits from all of the information.

But Remember: Duplicate Content is Still Bad

So yes, pirating content from your competitors is normal and even encouraged in the world of search engine optimization (SEO).

But that doesn’t mean that you can just copy it and paste it to your website.

Remember that search engines use penalties to deter sites from behavior that aim to manipulate the search rankings. For Google, one of those penalties is the Panda Penalty, which covers duplicate content, or content that does not add value from what can be found elsewhere. Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content in the same language or are appreciably similar.”

This draws a line between pirating content and straight up stealing it. If you’re going to pirate content or ideas from your competitors, you still need to make it your own before posting it on your law firm’s website.