The Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring the Use of Ukrainian as a State Language” No. 2704-VIII (the “Linguistic law“) came into force on July 16, 2019. It was enacted despite all the pressure, claims, objections and attempts to declare it unconstitutional1. The language law has held firm and is gradually coming into force (in our previous overview, we summarized various requirements of the language law and the corresponding transition periods).
The next important step is July 16, 2022. On this date, the three-year transition period to start using Ukrainian for the user interface (the “user interface“) pre-installed software and Internet offices (official sites and web pages in social media). The bill previously provided for a shorter transitional period (eighteen months), but Parliament decided to grant a longer period long so that companies adapt smoothly to new requirements.
Additional language requirements
The following requirements will come into effect on July 16, 2022:
- User interface of pre-installed software on products marketed in Ukraine must be in Ukrainian. In terms of volume and content, the Ukrainian version of the user interface should be equivalent to versions in other languages.
If the above language requirement is not met, the affected product will be classified as a poor quality product. Marketing of low-quality products is a violation of Ukrainian consumer protection laws, in particular Art. 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Protection of Consumer Rights” (Consumer rights in case of purchase of poor quality products).
The above requirements do not have retroactive effect.
Finally, the above-mentioned requirements do not apply to the user interface of software marketed in Ukraine separately from devices. The user interface of these software must be in Ukrainian and/or English or other official languages of the European Union. This language requirement is in effect as of July 16, 2019.
- Internet offices, including websites and web pages in social media, must be in Ukrainian for (i) mass media registered in Ukraine; and (ii) companies that market their goods and/or services in Ukraine and are registered (have a commercial presence) in Ukraine.
It is allowed to have Internet offices in other languages. In this case, (i) the Ukrainian version must be available by default for users based in Ukraine; and (ii) the volume and content of the Ukrainian version of the Internet office must be equivalent to versions in other languages (paragraph 6 of article 27 of the Law on Languages).
Foreign companies that market their goods and/or services in Ukraine and have subsidiaries, affiliated entities and/or representative offices in Ukraine should ensure that the content of the Ukrainian version of the website is sufficient for convenient navigation of the user and the presentation of the activities of the owner of such Internet office. In addition, these foreign entities must ensure that the Ukrainian version is available by default for users based in Ukraine. These requirements apply only to websites.
The above requirements do not apply to internet offices of (i) print media that are published
only in Crimean Tatar, languages of other indigenous peoples of Ukraine, English and other official languages of the European Union; and (ii) scientific publications.
In fact, the above regulations are not the only ones that stipulate language law requirements for websites. Pursuant to s. 2 of art. 30 of the Language Law, companies that serve consumers and provide information about goods and/or services, including through online shops and online catalogs, must be in Ukrainian. This information may be dubbed into other languages. This language requirement is in effect as of January 16, 2021. Notably, this requirement may also apply to online stores and online catalogs of foreign companies that do not have a presence in Ukraine, including subsidiaries, affiliated entities and/or representative offices.
Legal and other exposure in the event of non-compliance
July 16, 2022 will also mark the end of the three-year transitional period for relief from fines for violating language law requirements. In fact, the State Language Protection Commissioner has already warned that the regulation on fines will enter into force very soon.
In less than a month, a violation of the language law requirements, including those described in this overview, will constitute an administrative offence. The State Language Protection Commissioner may impose fines on, among other things, corporate officers and employees responsible for language law enforcement (a CEO is liable by default unless delegated to another employee). All the necessary regulations, including the main forms of protocols of administrative offenses, have already been adopted by the Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language and will also come into force on July 16, 2022.
For the first violation of the language requirements described in this overview, a warning or an administrative fine in the amount of 3,400 to 5,100 UAH (approximately 110 to 165 EUR) may be applied. A repeated violation, committed within a year of the previous violation, carries a fine of 8,500 to 11,900 UAH (approximately 275 to 385 EUR).
Due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, it is also strongly advised to carefully manage the reputation of the company and the brand, especially in the digital space. Negative comments from the public (especially in relation to social media) may harm the reputation of the business or brand, even if such a dispute/claim would be (deemed) without merit. Reputational damage may be the only reason for such social media dispute/complaint/buzz.
The risk of blocking Internet offices, including official websites and web pages, is apparently low. The blocking is neither stipulated as a measure for violation of language requirements, nor is the Commissioner for State Language Protection explicitly vested with such authority. Yet, due to the lack of sufficient regulation on the blocking of online resources, the current practice of blocking access is mainly based on court practice. Judicial practice and legal regulations are constantly changing, so the risk of website/webpage blocking requires regular reassessment.
1. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine finally upheld the constitutionality of the Language Law (see Decision No. 1-p/2021 of July 14, 2021).
Originally published June 24, 2022
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.