One of the great things about the Internet is that you have a chance to publish your stuff anywhere. It can be your own website or blog, someone else's ezine, or even a fairly decent news site like The American Reporter. Unfortunately, the downfall is that your stuff can easily be stolen and published elsewhere. While it's sort of flattering to an insecure writer like me, it can be downright aggravating to guys like Bruce Cameron (the 8 Simple Rules to Dating My Teenage Daughter guy). For a while, he had a full-time staffer whose job it was to write nasty letters to people who had plagiarized his columns (he also did the one about the chili tasting judge who suffered horrible agony during the contest).
So I will occasionally ego surf for myself on Google.com. Ego surfing can be dangerous. On one hand, it's a huge boost to your ego when you find your name in an unexpected place. On the other, it can be a devastating blow if you don't find anything at all. Of course, it's pretty much useless if your name happens to be John Smith or Bill Johnson. Still, if you have a fairly uncommon name, or have some unique identifiers that you can enter, it's worth a try. I usually do a search for my name in quotes, so as to remove any reference to double-decker busses. And I also put -Belgium in the search, since there is a real estate agent named Erik Deckers in Brussel.
Of course, not all word thieves will do me the courtesy of including my name in their purloined material. That happened to me a few years ago, when I caught the assistant editor of a small-town Canadian newspaper plagiarizing one of my columns. I ratted him out to his editor, and then pleaded for mercy if it was his first and only offense (turns out it was). I take plagiarism very seriously, but at the same time, if this was his first mistake, I didn't want to be the reason he became an insurance agent for the rest of his life either.
I always recommend to other writers that they occasionally take a unique phrase or sentence from one of their pieces and Google it. If it pops up, make sure it pops up in the place where it should be (i.e. your website). If you find it elsewhere, investigate further and find out why it's up there.
In some cases, I've found web pages that posted my stuff, but included my name and website. I usually don't complain too loudly about that, becuase I'm more thrilled that someone liked my stuff enough to republish it. But if you're a published writer who makes his or her living doing this stuff, then by all means, write a nasty letter to the thief demanding that your stuff be removed. The whole "It's on the Internet, so it's public domain" argument is crap. Try telling that to the RIAA.
When my stuff is posted but uncredited, I send an email to the offender telling them that my publishing rate is $500, and they can either pay me or take it down. As of today, no one has paid me my pub rate. Jerks.
Still, if you're looking for some validation on your writing career, surf on over to Google.com, type in your name (use quotes, otherwise Google returns instances of your first AND last name separately), and see what pops up.