A publicly traded company (also called a public company) is one that issues stocks that are traded on the open market, either on a stock exchange or the over-the-counter market.
Individual and institutional shareholders constitute the owners of a publicly traded company, in proportion to the amount of stock they own. Shareholders thus have final say in all decisions made by a publicly traded company and its managers, especially through its annual shareholders' meeting.
Publicly traded companies have greater access to financing than other companies, as they have the ability to issue more stock. However, they are subject to greater regulation. For example, they must file 10-K reports with the SEC on their earnings and they are more likely to be subject to corporate taxes.