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26 April 2019

New Ukrainian Language Law adopted: What are the implications for labelling of foreign products, foreign software with user interfaces, websites, and advertising?

On 25 April 2019, after long months of heavy discussions and debates with respect to the bill on ensuring the functioning of Ukrainian as state language No. 5670-д (“Bill” or “New Language Law”)[1] and about four weeks spent to consider 2,000+ final amendments suggested to the Bill, the Ukrainian Parliament has adopted the New Language Law in the second reading.

The new Language Law has not entered into force yet. In order to enter into force, it should be further signed by the Ukrainian President and then published in one of the official printed gazettes. Opponents of the Bill are now attempting to block entering the New Language Law into force and promise to file a petition to the Ukrainian Constitutional Court to declare the adopted law unconstitutional but it seems that nonetheless the New Language Law will enter into force in the near future.

The New Language Law aims to impose appreciably stricter requirements on the use of Ukrainian in all areas of life. This legal alert is quick and general overview of only several provisions of the adopted law of particular interest for our clients to give you first impression what business to expect.

Background

Since 28 February 2018, there was no special law that would regulate language issues in Ukraine. In particular, on 28 February 2018, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the Law of Ukraine “On Principles of State Language Policy” No. 5029-VI dated 03 July 2012 (“State Language Policy Law”) (the repealed law generally permitted the use of regional languages or minority languages in addition or together with the state language Ukrainian). Prior to the adoption of this State Language Policy Law, language issues were regulated by the special language law of 1989 stipulating stricter requirements regarding the use of Ukrainian (compared to State Language Policy Law).

In light of the above, since 28 February 2018, the language issue was mainly regulated only by Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution. Paragraph 1 of Article 10 stipulates that Ukrainian shall be the state language in Ukraine.

The New Language Law was adopted in the first reading in October 2018. Since then, it has been highly debated and vigorously criticized.

What are the implications? 

If the Bill is signed into law in the form prepared for the second reading by the Ukrainian Parliament, it would impose stricter requirements on the use of Ukrainian, including software with user interfaces, websites, servicing consumers, labelling, packaging, and advertising.

1.User interfaces, software, and websites

Article 27 of the New Language Law stipulates that:

(i) software with user interface that is marketed in Ukraine shall have the user interface in Ukrainian and/or English or other official languages of the European Union (EU).

(ii) software with user interface that is installed on products which are marketed in Ukraine shall have a user interface in Ukrainian. In terms of volume and contents, the Ukrainian version of the interface should not be crippled if compared to the same version in other languages. Failure to ensure compliance with this requirement will ultimately result in classification of the relevant product as being of low quality.

(iii) public authorities and state- or municipal-owned entities are permitted to use software with user interface in Ukrainian only. Before the Ukrainian version of an interface is prepared, it is permitted to use the interface in English. The foregoing requirements apply to public procurements.

The above requirements also apply to state- and municipal-owned educational establishments.

(iv) Internet offices[2] (e.g. websites, web-pages in social media) of those business entities that market their goods and/or services in Ukraine and are registered in Ukraine must be in Ukrainian. In addition to Ukrainian version available for users by default, it is permitted to have Internet offices in other languages. Ukrainian version of the Internet office should not be crippled if compared to versions of the same in other languages.

Those foreign entities which market their goods and/or services in Ukraine and have subsidiaries, affiliated entities, and/or representative offices in Ukraine, must ensure that contents of the Ukrainian version of the website is sufficient for convenient user navigation and presenting the business activity of the owner of such Internet office. It is expected that this requirement will be applicable to websites only.

(v) Mobile applications of those business entities which market their goods and/or services in Ukraine must have a Ukrainian version of the user interface.

(vi) Special-purpose scientific, technical, medical and diagnostic, professional equipment, including software, which does not belong to consumer goods as well as special-purpose software that is intended to be used in IT area only, does not need to have user interface in Ukrainian if an interface in English is available.

2. Servicing consumers, labelling, and packaging

Article 30 of the New Language Law stipulates that:

(i) Consumers in Ukraine shall be serviced in Ukrainian unless the consumer requests service personally in another language.

(ii) information about goods and/or services in online stores and online catalogues must be in Ukrainian and can be dubbed in other languages.

(iii) producers (contractors, sellers) shall provide consumers information about products, services, and work in Ukrainian. Such information in Ukrainian can be provided to consumers on labelling and/or packaging and/or in documentation accompanying the products (goods), work, services and/or in any other proper manner (should be intelligible and easily accessible). Such information in Ukrainian may be dubbed with any other language. In case information about products and/or services is provided to consumers in several languages, the volume and contents of information in Ukrainian shall not be less informative than in other languages.

(iv) products (goods) labelling, including their packaging, must be in Ukrainian unless otherwise stipulated by the New Language Law. In addition to Ukrainian, it is permitted to dub the labelling and information on the packaging in other languages. Text on the products (goods), including their packaging, can be provided in English, provided that such text is evident for consumers of such goods and does not mislead them. Such text in English must be further explained for consumers in Ukrainian in user’s manuals and other documentation accompanying the products (goods).

3.Advertising

Article 32 of the New Language Law stipulates that Ukrainian shall be the language of advertising.

As a general rule, advertising on TV and radio must also be in Ukrainian. However, as regarding advertising that is distributed by foreign TV and radio organizations as well as those TV and radio organizations that broadcast in one or several languages that have official status in the EU, it is permitted to distribute such advertising in official languages of the EU, but together with Ukrainian.

Regarding printed media that is published in one of the official languages of the EU, it is permitted to place advertising in the language in which the printed media is published.

Transitional periods

The New Language Law stipulates transitional periods in order for business to be able to comply with the new requirements. As a general rule, the New Language Law will enter into force from the date of its official publication. However, transitional periods are available for the areas we described above:

– Except for sub-item (i) of Item 1 above that enters into force according to the general rule above, the described requirements for user interfaces, software, and websites would enter into force in eighteen months as of official publication of the New Language Law.

– Except for sub-item (i) of Item 2 above that enters into force according to the general rule above, the described requirements for servicing consumers, labelling, and packaging would enter into force in eighteen months as of official publication of the New Language Law.

– Article 32 of the New Language Law regarding the language of advertising would enter into force in six months as of official publication of the New Language Law.

For further information, please contact Oleg Klymchuk.

Information contained in this legal alert is for general information purposes only, does not constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice tailored to particular circumstances.

[1] This alert is prepared based upon the latest version of the law prepared for the second reading.

[2]Internet office’ is a special term that is used in the New Language Law. It generally means a website, webpage in social media and other presence of the business entity on the internet that is established by the latter to mainly conduct marketing and/or other non-transactional operations, as well as present information about business and the company. The Bill prepared for the second reading does not contain a definition of ‘Internet office’.

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