OpenCorporates: The directors’ cut

One of the most often requested features for OpenCorporates, especially by journalists, is for us to extract information about the directors and officers for the over 35 million companies we’ve opened up.

And as Alex Howard reported on O’Reilly Radar last week, that feature is now live (we also gave a sneak peak during our presentation at the Investigative Reporters and Editor’s NICAR conference last month).

So far we’ve imported over 10 million positions, and the ability to search by name across all the jurisdictions for which we have officer information. At the moment that’s:

and coming soon: New Zealand. (We’ve also got a handful from Massachusetts but they’ve blocked our scraper – now why would they want to prevent people getting access to this information?)

You’ll notice that the UK’s not on there (nor in fact are any European countries), which is somewhat embarrassing for it, given the UK government’s stated aim of being the most open government in the world. Unfortunately while the information is held, it’s only sold to those with deep pockets, thus undermining access, and reducing both corporate transparency and governance. In short, we could buy it, but then we’d have to stop being openly licensed, and that’s a route we’re never going to go down.

It’s also worth noting that there are several key jurisdictions that don’t actually collect this information, including Delaware and Nevada – and here you’d think there’s nothing we could do about this. However, you’d be wrong, and I’ll explain why with a concrete example.

Search for Mitt Romney, and you see that he’s listed as being an officer for 7 companies, including chairman and director of Healthcare Acquisitions, which is a foreign branch company in Mississippi. In fact this is a branch, set up in 1989, of a Delaware company, as you can see if you click through the company page, and then to the official registry page. So even though we don’t yet have that Delaware company (and even we did, we wouldn’t be able to get the directors), you can still find out the directors information.

Click instead on the name Mitt Romney on one of the entries on the search page and you get this page:

As you can see, not only do you get the company this particular position belongs to and the other officers,names of the fellow directors, you also get the other companies with similarly named people. And that’s an important distinction that’s worth stressing. We’re not saying that John Smith, Director of Megacorp Inc, is the same person as John Smith, Secretary of AnotherCo LLC. We don’t have that information, and, actually, neither does anyone else in general.

But what it does allow you to do is in a matter of seconds do the sort of research that would have previously taken hours. And if the web isn’t about reducing by several orders of magnitude the time or cost of things, then it’s not being truly disruptive.

p.s. We’re adding the officer search and info functionality to the next version of the OpenCorporates API, which we’re currently working on. Watch this space.

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