Cooperatives as legal entities A cooperative is a legal entity owned and democratically controlled by its members. Members often have a close association with the enterprise as producers or consumers of its products or services, or as its employees.[citation needed] In some countries, e.g. Finland and Sweden, there are specific forms of incorporation for cooperatives. Cooperatives may take the form of companies limited by shares or by guarantee, partnerships or unincorporated associations. In the UK they may also use the industrial and provident society structure. In the USA, cooperatives are often organized as non-capital stock corporations under state-specific cooperative laws. However, they may also be unincorporated associations or business corporations such as limited liability companies or partnerships; such forms are useful when the members want to allow[citation needed]: some members to have a greater share of the control, or some investors to have a return on their capital that exceeds fixed interest, neither of which may be allowed under local laws for cooperatives. Cooperatives often share their earnings with the membership as dividends, which are divided among the members according to their participation in the enterprise, such as patronage, instead of according to the value of their capital shareholdings (as is done by a joint stock company). [edit]Identity Co peratives are typically based on the cooperative values of "self-help, self-responsibility, democracy and equality, equity and solidarity" and the seven cooperative principles:[14] Voluntary and open membership Democratic member control Economic participation by members Autonomy and independence Education, training and information Cooperation among cooperatives Concern for community Cooperatives are dedicated to the values of openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Such legal entities have a range of social characteristics. Membership is open, meaning that anyone who satisfies certain non-discriminatory conditions may join. Economic benefits are distributed proportionally to each member's level of participation in the cooperative, for instance, by a dividend on sales or purchases, rather than according to capital invested.[14] Cooperatives may be classified as either worker, consumer, producer, purchasing or housing cooperatives.[15] They are distinguished from other forms of incorporation in that profit-making or economic stability are balanced by the interests of the community.[14] Co-ops can sometimes be identified on the Internet through the use of the .coop suffix of internet addresses. Organizations using .coop domain names must adhere to the basic co-op values. The United Nations has declared 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).