ClickZ links to a great undercover project by the Wall Street Journal named Our Columnist Creates Web 'Original Content' But Is in for a Surprise. The article is written by a columnist that went under cover, and was hired by Web "publishers" that want so-called "original content" for ranking well in search engines. The writer explains how he was hired to write 50 articles, each 500 words long for a total sum of $100. In the end, the "publisher" wanted plagiarized copy for his 50 articles.
To make a long story short, he spent days researching and writing one article, sent it to the client, who said it was written well, but wanted to break up his original article into smaller more keyword phrase specific articles. The client sent an example of an article to the WSJ columnist, who noticed that it was plagiarized not from one site, but several well-respect sites, including World Health Organization, New Scientist and WebMD sites. The client wanted the columnist to flip around from site to site and copy pieces of content from popular sites, and paste them together to make "original content."
All in all, he blames the search engines for allowing this. He provides the following analogy; "In fact, search engines are more like a TV camera crew let loose in the middle of a crowd of rowdy fans after a game. Seeing the camera, everyone acts boorishly and jostles to get in front. The act of observing something changes it."
To be fair, I just wrote an article this morning at the Search Engine Roundtable named Writing Articles That Get Links. I explain in that article that the copy-writing for search engines is getting old and will eventually be figured out by the search engines. For articles, today, to get links, to rank well, they must be written with soul and emotion. You have to care about what you are writing for people to want to link to them. You see these patterns happening at Google today. Of course there are hundreds of examples of pages that catch the long-tail of search terms that are plagiarized - but you will notice (1) less and less of this in the future (2) and/or longer-tailed keywords being targeted with these articles. Both of which reduce the likelihood of a searcher locating such articles.