Syndication as we’ve come to known it is akin to the TV show Seinfeld. When the show ended in 1998, folks like me saw it for the first time in reruns on various stations other than NBC, where it originally ran.

In a nice piece on content syndication and blogs, Brendan Barron explains the basics largely applied by LexBlog as we build a legal news and information network by curating/syndicating legal blogs worldwide:

“[S]omeone makes a copy of content that was originally published elsewhere and then uses it on their own WordPress website. So, for your purposes, content syndication could mean that you import someone else’s content into your site (which is probably what most of you will do). It also means that you could loan out your own content to others.”

When Seinfeld gives Seattle’s Channel 11 permission to run his shows in syndication, there’s no copyright infringement. Same for blogs.

“When someone willingly grants permission for others to use their blog posts in syndication, and proper attribution is provided to the original author and source, there shouldn’t be any problems with violating copyright law.”

For bloggers, Barron says content syndication is greatly beneficial:

  • Their content now has the opportunity to be introduced to a new audience
  • They’re receiving free promotion of content on another platform that requires zero work on their part
  • They receive a a new backlink to to their blog from a highly influential source, growing the influence of their blog and improving its search performance. [Last point on search added by me.]

In the case of LexBlog, add delivering the blog posts to legal research services such as Fastcase and further syndicating posts via email newsletters and social media.

What about duplicate content confusing the search engines and possibly causing your blog to rank lower than the syndication source?

No question syndicated content is duplicate content, it’s content identical to something that already exists online and is already indexed by the search engines.

There’s a good reason search engines hate duplicate content, per Barron:

“To put it plainly, it’s because duplicate content is usually a sign of unwarranted use of someone else’s work (i.e. plagiarism). In this case, however, that clearly is not your intention as you’re publishing content with a direct attribution back to the original writer and source. That said, Google’s bots aren’t smart enough to know that an arrangement was made.”

What’s the answer?

“[Y]ou need to somehow communicate to search engines that the duplicate content is not to be indexed or ranked (since that privilege belongs to the source). After all, you don’t need to rank for this page.”

As Barron explains, you can communicate this to search engines in a couple different ways:

  1. Add a canonical tag. A canonical tag is one you place in the header of the syndicated content page. It tells search bots, “Hey, I don’t deserve any of this praise. Can you guys please just give it all to this person over here?”
  2. Update the robots.txt. If you simply want to keep the search engines away from this page, you can instead use the robots.txt file in the root directory.

LexBlog will use the canonical approach. Our goal is to shine a light on bloggers and their commentary. Let people worldwide discover them and their insight—but always to recognize the power of a citizen journalist having their own publication.

Key for law bloggers, I’d think, is that the syndication be done through a credible publisher, that the content be open and free to readers, that as the original publisher you need not have to pay for syndication, that there be links back to the original content and authors, and that there be continuing attribution in the form of blog and blogger profiles.

Who knew? Law blogs and Seinfeld.