What is an impact of the law on language on online shopping, software development and web sites

In September, the Ukrainian parliament adopted the bill on ensuring functioning of the Ukrainian language as the official language No. 5670-d in the first reading. It also has rules regarding e-commerce, software development, and other sites that operate online. If the bill is accepted as a whole and the President signs it, does this mean that the Ukrainian segment of the Internet will have to fully switch to the Ukrainian language? The editor of AIN.UA has studied the text of the law and talked about its main novels concerning the Internet.

The draft law establishes the conditions under which the state language works in various spheres of the country’s life. Basically, all the rules relating to the Ukrainian language on the Internet are set forth in Article 23 of the draft law’s project entitled “The State Language in Electronic Information Systems” (there are intended websites and computer programs).

With regard to the development of computer programs:

  • Programs that are sold in Ukraine will have to have a full-fledged user interface in the Ukrainian language and/or the official languages ​​of the EU (that is, in this case, if the program has an English-language interface, the Ukrainian version is optional).
  • Programs with a user interface installed on products that are sold in Ukraine must have a version in Ukrainian. That is, for example, the sale of iPhones, for which the Ukrainian version is set by default, will not violate the law if it is passed. And, for example, the sale of PlayStation consoles without Ukrainian localization will be violating the law.
  • Developers who write and sell programs for state authorities in Ukraine and for public utilities will also need to localize their product by adding the Ukrainian version. Authorities and public utilities will be prohibited from using programs without the Ukrainian version. Accordingly, they can only buy such software. However, it is allowed to use software without the Ukrainian version with an interface in one of the EU languages, “at the time of the creation of the Ukrainian interface.”

As for the work of online stores and other sites:

  • Internet representations of legal entities and individual entrepreneurs who sell goods and services in Ukraine “are performed in the state language”, this applies to both websites and official pages on social networks. In addition to the version in Ukrainian, there may be other versions. However, the Ukrainian version should be loaded by default, and it should not have less content than versions in other languages.
  • The same rule applies to sites and pages in social media, registered as media in Ukraine.
  • Article 24 states that information for general awareness (such as ads or signs) should be submitted in Ukrainian, however, the provisions of this article do not apply to the Internet.
  • Part of the new requirements for owners of online stores is also contained in Article 26 “State language in the sphere of customer service.” In particular, it says that companies of all forms of ownership (including online stores and online catalogs) serve customers and provide information in the Ukrainian language. However, at the request of the client it can be served in another language.
  • Owners, operators and online stores’ sellers “in the case of distribution of a commercial electronic message” should provide information in Ukrainian, including the information on the subject matter of the contract. Translating it from the clerk to an understandable language, we are talking about advertising messages, newsletters, letters confirming the purchase, product cards, etc.

What could be the sanctions for violation of such rules?

The Ombudsman for the Protection of the State Language will monitor the implementation of the norms of the law, and the State Service for the Protection of Consumer Rights will apply sanctions against service companies that violate its norms. In the text of the draft law, there is section 8, Article 2.7, with a rule amending the Law “On Protection of Consumer Rights”, which requires the Central Administration to give instructions, including “On the temporary cessation of activities in the field of electronic commerce and the placement of electronic commercial messages.” That is, if, for example, the user complained about the lack of information about the product in the Ukrainian language, the State Service of Customers could hypothetically suspend the operation of such an online store. However, it is still unclear what will be the mechanism for the implementation of this norm.

Violation of the requirements of the draft law in terms of providing information about goods and services will result in a fine of shop officials in the amount of 300-400 non-taxable minimum incomes of citizens (this is UAH 5,100 – 6,800).

The Liga.net media asked lawyers how the rules on sanctions will be implemented. De-jure lawyer Volodymyr Danilin described several ways of circumventing the norms in the existing wording:

  • The prescription will be issued to a specific business entity. On the Internet, sites with marketplaces for third parties are registeredquite often. A business entity will shift the responsibility to a third party, to whom, in fact, the state body must claim the termination of the violation.
  • Large marketplaces can add a separate tab with a mirror site in the Ukrainian language. Or in accordance with Part 2 of Article 26 of the draft law there will be a format button added “Would you like all materials to be provided to you in another language? (language choices).” Thus, the marketplace will actually shift the responsibility for the content to the end user. And there is a rule about the choice of the user service language in the draft law.
  • Until a provision on how a government agency will verify that the marketplace complies with the requirements of the language law will be elaborated, the rule will not actually work. It is impossible to demand to stop the violation if there is no procedure for fixing this violation.