It's very simple how it works:
Google sees 2 or more sites with the same content. It's not gonna show you all of them, because it's not really a good resultpage if everything is the same. So it starts to decide which of the sites will be shown.
It does this based on a few factors like:
- Which site had it first (on same publish date, this is THE FIRST FOUND, not perse the original)
- Which site has a better ranking?
After some formula they show you one, the others don't get shown. You do not get a penalty, but no points for content either.
In your case, it does benefit you a bit; you get points for users on your site, and the time they're on your site. If you have a blank website, they leave fast, if you have some basic content they stay longer.
The linkbuiling is something you should be carefull with. Quality over quantity, only get links from relevant sites' relevant pages. Don't expect too much from this. Also, check if their anchors have
rel="nofollow". If so, you dont get ANY SEO value from it at all :)