How a Belgian-born British e-resident found a digital home in Estonia for his copyright-focused business Digiciti
E-resident systems engineer Philippe Rixhon is originally from Belgium, from a family with roots in the polyglot country’s French-, Dutch-, and German-speaking communities. Forty years ago, he relocated to Switzerland, where he worked for years, before moving to the Middle East for a spell, and eventually returning to Europe, where he settled in the UK.
That was almost two decades ago, long before he became an e-resident of Estonia and found his digital home here. Yet in some ways, Rixhon, who continues to call London home, was a digital nomad before there ever was such a thing. He defines himself not by place of residence or his passport, but according to his skill set.
“I am a systems engineer,” says Rixhon. “I build systems that include IT, but not only,” he says. The systems that Rixhon builds are half-human, half-machine, and he works diligently to make these two worlds meet, ensuring that humans are trained to interact with IT, and vice versa.
In his enterprising professional career, Rixhon became aware of challenges in international copyright law, or how to bridge concepts of copyright law between, say, British and Chinese versions. Recently, he met Richard Bron, a fellow entrepreneur considered to be among the foremost thinkers at the junction of entertainment and technology and the two launched Digiciti Networks to solve rights data challenges. The firm, founded in 2020 and headquartered in Tallinn, seeks to spearhead the convergence of media, entertainment, technology, and copyright policy via shared digital infrastructures.
Digiciti wants to provide a more transparent exchange of rights data, where rights holders can declare their rights and data users can search and find them. It aims to accomplish this by developing systems that support all stakeholders in the digital media business, governing its application stack through layers of regulatory and industry compliance, and ultimately providing a real-time and affordable distributed register of interoperable data. “It’s a double-sided marketplace,” Rixhon says.
But when did Estonia enter the picture for these two Brits? There were various reasons why they decided to bet both on Estonia and e-Residency. One was, of course, Brexit, which has prompted many Britons to acquire e-Residency from Estonia to open and operate a European company remotely.
Yet, Rixhon said the ease of both obtaining e-Residency as well as using Estonia’s ecosystem of digital services, dubbed e-Estonia, made it an ideal place to launch the firm as an e-resident systems engineer.
“We could have of course placed the company elsewhere in the European Union,” says Rixhon. “But none of the Member States is easier to deal with than Estonia.”
There were other reasons too. Rixhon cited Estonia’s IT start-up ecosystem, which is favourable to technology firms, as well as its digital infrastructure. “Our system needs to be plugged into a national infrastructure, which exists in Estonia, so we didn’t need to invent that,” he says. Not all countries have a digital backbone, like X-Road, or support digital identity. “Those exist in Estonia and are important for us.”
Interestingly, Estonia’s small size also was attractive, as Digiciti has wanted to roll out its offering within Estonia, while it expands internationally. “If you are dealing with a smaller country, you can easily introduce it,” says Rixhon. “It’s much easier to start what we are doing in Estonia than in a country of 50 million or 100 million.”
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Bron and Rixhon became e-residents in May 2020 and established Digiciti in August, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone knows that you can be an e-resident and active in Estonia, without even visiting,” he notes, “but in our case we actually could not visit the country, because everything was locked down.” The e-resident systems engineer did manage to visit his new digital homeland twice in 2021, though he admits these were limited business trips.
“When you are in the Swissôtel in Tallinn, you could be in a Swissôtel anywhere else in the world,” says Rixhon.
“My first impression when I was in Estonia was that it was as easy on site as it was online,” he says. “It is, for me, an easy-going place.”
Digiciti has already commenced some partnerships in Estonia. It received a government grant to get started and to experiment on building a system together with an Estonian technology partner, Concise, and the music ecosystem of Estonia. “We are working with musicians, music publishers, record labels, collective management organizations, and with Fairmus to develop the system.”
The project was announced at Tallinn Music Week in October.
The company is also courting other e-residents in the meantime, Rixhon notes. “We could offer every single e-resident the possibility to declare their rights on digital assets.” And from there, the whole world is the market.
“Obviously, we will serve Estonia, but can serve anyplace from Estonia,” underscores Rixhon. “The future of the company is to serve the Estonian creative ecosystem, and anybody else from Estonia.”
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