Ukraine: New and upcoming Language Law implications for businesses
The new Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language” (“Law“) came into force on 16 July 2019. Although two years have passed since then, the entry into force of many key business-related provisions has been postponed by long periods of transition. However, with a significant part of such provisions already in force as well as upcoming fines for violating the language legislation, we would like to highlight the main aspects that both Ukrainian and foreign businesses should know about the current and approaching requirements of the Law.
The Law introduced a number of important changes in many business-related areas, including:
- Servicing consumers and labelling
Article 30 of the Law mandates that consumers shall be serviced in Ukrainian unless the consumer personally requests service in another language.
Moreover, all product/service-related information, including in online stores and online catalogues, must be in Ukrainian. This also covers labelling, packaging and accompanying documentation of the products/services. Such information in Ukrainian may be duplicated in any other language. At the same time, the volume and content of information in Ukrainian shall not be less than required by the Law of Ukraine “On Consumers’ Rights Protection”
Under Article 32 of the Law, the language of advertising shall be Ukrainian. However, the Law also establishes an exception for IP objects used in advertising allowing them to be presented in the language in which they are protected by law.
This rule generally applies to all advertising, including on TV and radio. Yet, it is allowed to distribute such advertising in official languages of the EU together with Ukrainian language if distributed by foreign TV and radio companies and by TV and radio companies that broadcast in one or several languages that have official status in the EU. As for printed media published in one of the EU official languages, they may place advertising in the respective language in which they are published.
- Labelling of medicines and medical devices
Article 33 of the Law sets out a general rule that labelling of medicines and medical devices, as well as the texts of instructions on their use, shall be in Ukrainian. However, the Law also contains certain exceptions for medicines and medical devices purchased via public procurement mechanisms.
- Distribution and demonstration of films
Article 23 of the Law requires that the language of distribution and demonstration of films in Ukraine shall be Ukrainian.
It further specifies that, in Ukraine, films made by Ukrainian producers are to be distributed and demonstrated in Ukrainian. Lines in other languages must be voiced or subtitled in Ukrainian and their total duration must not exceed 10% of the duration of all the lines. Other films must be dubbed or voiced in Ukrainian to be distributed and demonstrated in Ukraine.
The Law also puts an obligation on VOD service providers to ensure that a Ukrainian audio track for the film is downloaded by default, provided that (i) such film can be accessed from the territory of Ukraine and (ii) they have a Ukrainian audio track for it.
- Software with user interfaces and websites
Article 27 of the Law stipulates that:
- user interface of software marketed in Ukraine shall be in Ukrainian and/or English, or other EU official languages
- user interface of software installed on products marketed in Ukraine shall be in Ukrainian and, in terms of volume and content, the Ukrainian version should contain no less information than the foreign-language versions of such interface
- Internet representations (e.g. websites, web-pages in social media) of media registered in Ukraine as well as businesses that market their products/services in Ukraine and are registered in Ukraine shall be in Ukrainian. The Law allows to have Internet representations in other languages provided that the Ukrainian version is available for users by default and contains no less information than the foreign-language versions, in terms of volume and content
- foreign entities which market their products/services in Ukraine and have subsidiaries, affiliated entities, and/or representative offices in Ukraine, must ensure that volume and content of the Ukrainian version of the website is sufficient for convenient user navigation and presenting the business activity of the owner of such Internet representation and that such version is available for users by default
- mobile applications of media registered in Ukraine as well as businesses which market their products/services in Ukraine must have the Ukrainian version of user interface
- special-purpose scientific, technical, medical and diagnostic, other special and 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 a user interface in Ukrainian if an English one is available
Trademark exception. In addition to advertising IP exception noted above, the Law provides a general exception for use of trademarks allowing them to be used in the language in which they are protected. This provision is quite helpful for businesses with foreign-language brands as they should not translate or transliterate their trademarks if the latter are registered in Ukraine.
Transitional periods. Almost all these provisions are already effective, save for the software with user interfaces and websites requirements under ii, iii and iv which will come into force on 16 July 2022.
Sanctions. The Law provides a fine of around USD 190-250 for a repeated within a year violation of provisions regarding servicing consumers under Article 30. This sanction is also already effective.
As regards the rest of the above provisions, a fine of around USD 125-190 for a first-time violation (and around USD 315-440 for a repeated within a year violation) might be imposed. Yet, these fines will become effective on 16 July 2022.
The enforcement watchdog in this area is the Commissioner for the protection of the state language.
As the Law is relatively new and its enforcement practice is quite scarce, we recommend:
- closely monitoring the developments with the enforcement practice and watching for new guidelines or clarifications from the Commissioner for the protection of the state language
- aligning the business activity with the requirements of the Law
- checking trademark protection in Ukraine and registering additional trademarks (where necessary) to ensure that the trademark exception will apply
Partner Baker McKenzie
Associate Baker McKenzie
Junior Associate Baker McKenzie