CalPERS Internal News Site Ignores Unfavorable Stories, Steals Copyrighted Material

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One of the reasons we’ve had insight into what CalPERS is thinking is that it has an internal news site that it curiously has not password protected, as you’d expect, particularly given how it operates.1 Historically, we found it useful not only because it gave us insight into what the Office of Public Affairs (PAOF) deemed newsworthy for staff and the board, but also because it regularly featured investment-related articles from subscription-only site like Private Equity International. In other words, CalPERS has been publishing copyrighted material for years when it is unlikely that it has obtained site-wide subscriptions.

Why are we so confident in our view? Because CalPERS in the past would post entire articles from Naked Capitalism when our work is copyrighted. We are very restrictive in who we allow to republish our work. CalPERS never sought permission to use our work and was thus violating our intellectual property rights. We didn’t complain at the time because CalPERS has fewer than 3000 employees and we were impressed that they were willing to let employees see critical articles.

And we are far from alone. For instance, we’ve embedded an article from Private Equity International which as of this writing, was still on CalPERS’ internal site. As you can see if you Google the headline, or click here, that article is for subscribers only.

CalPERS’ Daily News Summary also regularly reproduces articles in full from the Wall Street Journal, as you can see from the next two embeds. The second embed presents the summary for June 8, which has three articles from the Journal listed, as you can see on pages one and two (if you move your cursor to the very bottom of the document, the navigation bar appears). If you clicked on the links on the site, you get the complete text, as you can see in the third embed.

While we didn’t ask the Journal how much a site license would cost, Babson College, which has a bit more than 3000 students, asked in 2011 and found the price would be over $100,000. The Wall Street Journal has raised prices since them, become very restrictive about access to articles, and has also introduced an additional price tier, “WSJ Pro”. And prices for academic institutions are often lower than for other organizations. However, we gave the Journal the background and asked if CalPERS had a license that would cover all its employees and board members (and whatever riff-raff like former employees, that knew how to access the news pages). The response was that they were “not able to comment on this.”

Moreover, sites that do not have subscriptions want readers to view their articles on their site, not have third parties misappropriate them. Virtually all of sites that CalPERS links to regularly, such as the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post Orange County Register, Washington Post, Mercury News, Chief Investment Officer, Reuters, and Pensions & Investments, run advertisements just as Naked Capitalism does. Taking eyeballs away from them deprives them of ad impressions, meaning income. It also artificially reduces the number of page views they receive. Prospective advertisers evaluate publisher based on their level of traffic and reader demographics. So CalPERS is also ripping off non-subscription sites.

The reason we’ve decided to expose this service is that CalPERS has become so bunkered that its news summary has descended into internal propaganda. It’s one thing to stop featuring our work, as CalPERS did as of late 2015, after we ran two series criticizing CalPERS private equity program (they did feature some of the posts from that series, as you can see below, but it seems to have been the last straw). It’s now omitting unflattering major media stories. Apparently consistent with its aim of presenting only CalPERS-friendly news, it’s gone silent on private-equity-related topics.

For instance, as the fourth embed below shows, CalPERS didn’t feature the May 22 Wall Street Journal story, ONLY ROBOTS CAN TALLY WHAT THE LARGEST U.S. PENSION FUND PAYS IN FEES, even though CalPERS was the focus of the piece (non-subscribers can read our post here to get the gist of the story). It also left out the May 19 Journal article, Critic of Wall Street Fees to Leave Calpers Board (see here for a summary).

Another issue is that having this service is inconsistent with the board’s stance on Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. Board members have repeatedly criticized JJ Jelincic for sending links to news articles by e-mail to fellow board members. Bagley-Keene prohibits state agencies from holding meetings privately, except as specified by law. Even then, the matters discussed in private must be put on the agenda and the legal authority for the private discussion cited. E-mail can serve as a venue for having a prohibited private discussions of matters before the CalPERS.

However, the purpose of Bagley-Keene is to make sure that public bodies don’t deliberate in private. Sending news tidbits around isn’t the same as having substantive discussions. Yet Jelincc has been criticized for just that, repeatedly, even though a member of the attorney general’s office stated that sending articles to board members is informational, not deliberative, and hence is permitted,

If CalPERS really believes the line it is taking with Jelincic, as opposed to is just using Bagley-Keene as another “any stick to beat a dog” approach with Jelinic, it needs to bar the board from accessing the news summary. And it might help if it walked its talk on a lot of other fronts too.
____

1 No, JJ Jelincic has never sent us the link to this site.

CalPERS PE International story
CalPERS News Summary June 8
CalPERS June 8 WSJ story
CalPERS 5:23 news summary
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12 comments

  1. flora

    The first four paragraphs in the post left me in 2 minds: ripping off copyrighted work is bad, vs. providing important information to an interested public via a ‘backdoor’ is useful to the public.

    The seventh paragraph, wherein CalPERS looks to have gone full FB in it’s selective ‘editing’ of copyrighted work, makes it clear that this is no longer a publicly useful backdoor. It is another attempt to circle the wagons. Ripping off copyrighted work and then misrepresenting the work – either by shading context or by omission – is the worst of both worlds.

    Thanks for your continued reporting on CalPERS, PE and pensions.

  2. RUKidding

    Interesting. As always, Yves, thanks for the important job that you’re doing vis CalPers.

    As a currnet CalPers contributer and hopeful future CalPers annuitant, it’s very important to shine a spotlight on what CalPers is and is not doing to better manage this important pension system.

    The reason we’ve decided to expose this service is that CalPERS has become so bunkered that its news summary has descended into internal propaganda. It’s one thing to stop featuring our work, as CalPERS did as of late 2015, after we ran two series criticizing CalPERS private equity program (they did feature some of the posts from that series, as you can see below, but it seems to have been the last straw). It’s now omitting unflattering major media stories. Apparently consistent with its aim of presenting only CalPERS-friendly news, it’s gone silent on private-equity-related topics.

    Good work in exposing these practices. CalPers is being very selective in what it presents to its “constituents.” We are certainly not getting the whole story from them.

    Thanks again. Keep up the good work.

  3. Sluggeaux

    CalPERS staff have gone from being hard-nosed realists into specialists in “managing expectations.” This change from aggregating raw news to curating it as propaganda is typical of the current IBG/YBG short-sightedness of staff and the board. When the board turned-down the Mad Monk’s offer of a massive one-time contribution in exchange for taking expected rates of return a tiny bit closer to reality, the kimono was opened. They’re evidently attempting to hide the mounting losses from frauds perpetrated under the ex-CEO now doing time in the federal pen, that had been white-washed by Steptoe & Johnson.

    As for the violation of copyrights — whenever I’ve asked for permissions to reprint articles from the web, I’ve been met with shocked responses from the publishers! These are reprints of articles, not individual site use licenses. The permissions which should be obtained are a bit different. But that’s not to say CalPERS is in the right — either through ignorance or arrogance (or in that wacky bureaucratic manner of merging the two) permissions were likely never requested.

      1. Sluggeaux

        “The Mad Monk” is the nickname that some used to have for a certain guy who dropped out of seminary at Sacred Heart Novitiate back in 1960 and then went on to be elected to four terms as Governor of California.

  4. TheCatSaid

    This is an interesting issue. A similar issue has arisen for me in relation to some other websites, and I don’t know if I should take on the “web police” role or mind my own business. I’d be grateful for input from any NC readers with advice. It’s directly related to the issue of this post.

    I’m a subscriber to Newsbud.com which has some content only for members. It’s an amazing news source in general with lots of new reporting and commentary. Most of the info is available free to all, and the members-only content is available to subscribers (very inexpensive) who log on.

    Here’s my dilemma. A family member is a member of a different forum. No subscription payment needed, just application & approval. This forum often includes links to members-only content from other websites. Even non-members can see those links on the public threads of the forum. On at least one occasion they’ve linked to members-only content from Newsbud.com They’ve linked to subscribers-only content from DarkJournalist.com as well.

    Should I contact Newsbud and tell them what this other forum is doing? Should I mind my own business and celebrate that important information is being made more widely available?

    I don’t know if Newsbud or DarkJournalist have specific copyright attached or not. Newsbud doesn’t have ads and AFAIK DarkJournalist doesn’t have ads either. The moral issue is there regardless.

    –Is the greater public good facilitating the sharing of important information?
    –Is protecting the source’s exclusive content is more important?
    –What about me–whistleblower vs snitch vs minding my own business?
    –I’ve sometimes accessed the links to Dark Journalists members-only interviews using the links from the forum that shouldn’t be sharing them.

    So far I’ve done nothing about reporting the link sharing. Do NC readers think I should?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There is nothing wrong with positing links, or posting links with extracts of content. Publishers love being linked to by other sites, since if people click on the links it drives traffic to their site, and the links (if the site is indexed on Google, which CalPERS’ is not) increases your site’s Google ranking, which makes it appear higher in searches.

      It’s copying articles in full that is the problem. That should never be done unless a copyright holder (as in the publisher or an author who has retained republication rights) has given permission for reuse.

      1. TheCatSaid

        I’m confused by the difference between an article and a video.

        What about links to videos that are meant for paid-up members only?

        For example, if NC created special video interviews that were meant only for people who had donated/subscribed and required a password to access, would you mind if people posted links to those videos (allowing viewers who were not subscribers could see them)? Or would you only mind if they hadn’t asked & received permission? Or would you not mind at all and be glad more people were getting the info, regardless of whose site it was on?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          We don’t do videos and we don’t run a subscription model, so I can’t respond to a hypothetical so remote from how we do business.

          In addition, if someone posted a link to a password protected site, people who were not subscribers still would not be able to get access, so again your question doesn’t seem to make sense.

          1. TheCatSaid

            “people who were not subscribers still would not be able to get access”–I don’t know how it was done, but the “unauthorized” links did indeed give access to content that was in a members-only section. I experienced this in the “pirate links” on the forum in question, to members-only content on Newsbud and Dark Journalist. The person who gave me those links says this forum often has links to content otherwise behind paywalls/subscription.

            Yves, I used my hypothetical to try to make the issue clearer after you responded in person. I thought other NC readers might have opinions about the ethics of the situation, and of course I’m glad for your thoughts.

            So far I’ve done nothing–that is, I haven’t contacted Newsbud or Dark Journalist to say that xxxxx forum is posting working links to their members-only content. Like you said, they might be glad to be reaching more people with the content they provide.

            I already subscribe to Newsbud and maybe the personal ethical response might be to subscribe to Dark Journalist as well. And not tell sites their members-only content is being “leaked” since I’m glad it’s reaching more people.

        2. Grywlfbg

          It sounds like Newsbud’s site is misconfigured. A link to member’s-only content should be met with a login page or a page with a summary of the article and then a prompt to login in or sign up for the rest. The latter would help their Search Engine rankings as Yves alluded to above.

          As Yves said, as long as the forum is only posting links and not entire articles, they are fine and it’s actually helping Newsbud. It’s then up to Newsbud to decide how they want to configure their site.

          1. TheCatSaid

            Thanks. When I log on from my computer, it is exactly as you describe and I have to login to get to the members-only video content. (Most of their videos are for free public view, but a certain number each month are members-only and they are indeed outstanding.) Dark Journalist does the same, but I can only see the free public content.

            However, on xxxxxx forum, in the public comment threads, some people post links that take one directly to video content that is normally members-only.

            Maybe sometime I’ll do an experiment here and post a link to some of the Newsbud members-only content (from my watching it after logging in) and see if anyone else can watch it.

Comments are closed.