The OpenCorporates principles: What we do and how we do it

From the beginning it’s been our goal that OpenCorporates isn’t just another business data service. We’ve got no interest in being a more modern Bloomberg or Dun & Bradstreet – the goal here is not improve on what they do, but to use open data to transform society’s ability to understand, to map out, and influence the corporate world.

Company registers were some of the earliest forms of public registers, and the need for them to be open was recognized from the time they were set up. Today, companies play a much larger role in society, and in a data-driven world, it’s important that all of society has access to information about them, in a form and licence that allows for free reuse.

But it’s one thing to talk about open data; another thing to have it as your core principles, and that’s why we’ve decided to set out the first draft of the OpenCorporates principles – a codification, if you like, of what we do, and how we do it.

In part, this was down to a recognition that OpenCorporates has become an important part of the open data ecosystem, and is increasingly relied upon by journalists, the wider community, even governments. In that context, it’s important that it’s clear how we work, and that there are also clear benchmarks by which we can be judged.

It’s also a recognition that as with all things in the area of online information, there are conflicts between different rights and obligations, and it’s not always clear which is the right path to choose, and we hope the principles will help guide us when balancing those conflicting demands.

The OpenCorporates principles

  1. Purpose: OpenCorporates exists to make information about companies and the corporate world more accessible, more discoverable, and more usable, and thus give citizens, community groups, journalists, other companies, and society as a whole the ability to understand, monitor and regulate them.
    To the extent that we have rights to the information in OpenCorporates (including database rights), we will licence it under a share-alike attribution licence, allowing free and open reuse even commercially. Organisations or companies that wish to use the information on a non-share-alike basis will need to pay for a non-share-alike version (for the privilege of not releasing the resultant information to the community), thus ensuring OpenCorporates has a sustainable business model and giving an incentive to release information back to the community.
  2. Scope: The definition of a company varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, includes a variety of different legal forms used for a variety of purposes.
    OpenCorporates follows the basic principle that a company is a legal entity registered or incorporated by a company register or jurisdiction. We do not intend to create records on individuals, except insofar as they are registered as a business or connected with a business or other corporate entity on a public document or register. We do include dissolved companies as this is an important part of the public record, allowing customers, suppliers, and society at large to understand the past actions of companies and of those involved in them.
  3. Accuracy and Transparency: OpenCorporates aims to be an accurate reflection of the official public record, especially company registers, and we will always be clear about from where and when we obtained the information. Should there be errors in the importing of data from a company register or other public record, in the automatic matching of information to companies, or in user-contributed information, we will aim to correct those errors in a timely manner once we have been notified of them.
  4. Privacy. The owners of companies and the directors of them are often (though not always) individuals. Most countries make this information part of the official public record, to avoid fraud, corruption, and to ensure that companies aren’t able to avoid their responsibilities to the wider society.
    There is also in virtually every country a requirement to provide an official address, not least to ensure that legal redress can be obtained. Where directors or companies choose to submit a residential address there is arguably a conflict between the right to know, the right to free speech and the right to privacy.
    Where the balance is drawn between these potential conflicts is not always clear and varies from country to country. OpenCorporates shouldn’t seek to be an arbiter in this regard and we will defer to the official company register on what information is published about the individuals connection with companies, especially the owners and directors.
    Should a company register or other public data source remove or redact information about a person connected with the company, because, for example, their personal safety is at risk, we will update the OpenCorporates record in a timely manner once we’ve been informed, and will institute a procedure for temporarily removing the information while this is being carried out.

We’d welcome feedback on these principles. They are a work in progress, and we’re reviewing our internal processes to ensure we follow them.

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