A cease and desist letter is often your first step resolving a dispute. This document is not filed in court but instead is sent to a business or individual to ask them to stop an illegal activity that is infringing on your rights. You may also see this referred to as a demand letter or a stop harassment letter.
A cease and desist letter puts a person or business on notice that they are engaging in illegal activity, and if they do not stop, you will pursue legal action. It essentially serves as a warning and does not have any immediate legal consequences in the same way an order from the court or other government agency would.
However, because litigation can be time consuming and expensive for both parties, a cease and desist letter can be a way to quickly and simply resolve the conflict. In addition, sending a letter provides evidence that the party had notice of the illegal behavior but continued to engage in it. In some cases, such as trademark infringement, this may allow you to collect additional money damages if you decide to bring the case to court.
You can use these letters in a variety of situations to protect your legal rights. Common reasons to use a desist and cease letter include:
Intellectual property infringement: A cease and desist letter is often the first step in resolving a dispute over copyright, trademark, or patent infringement.
Breach of contract: After you have entered into an agreement with another party and they have violated the terms of the agreement, sending a letter is one way to resolve the dispute out of court.
Libel and slander: You may use a cease and desist letter to put an end to false and defamatory statements about you or your business.
Debt collection harassment: State and federal law prohibits debt collectors from harassing you to collect debt. A cease and desist letter puts them on notice that you are aware of your rights, and the activity must stop.
Other harassment: If someone is harassing you or your business in other ways, such as stalking or repeated phone calls, a cease and desist letter asserts your rights and provides documentation of the behavior.
It is important to note that a cease and desist order, also known as an injunction or restraining order, is different from a letter. As opposed to being sent by an individual or his attorney, an order is an official legally-binding document that is issued by a government agency or a court. An order requires someone to stop doing a certain behavior, and if they fail to do so, they may be found in contempt of court and face penalties such as fines or jail time.
To obtain a cease and desist order, you must file a lawsuit or other paperwork with the court. The papers filed and the terminology used will differ depending on the circumstances and your state law. After the paperwork is filed, the other side will have an opportunity to respond, and the court will decide on the matter based on all of the facts presented.
An effective cease and desist letter includes a few key provisions. It is important to be clear about what specific activity you want the person to cease, and why it is illegal for them to continue to do so. You should include a warning that you will pursue legal action--such as filing a lawsuit--if the activity does not stop. To preserve your rights, you may include a statement that you are not waiving present or future rights to sue based on prior misconduct. Send the letter via certified mail, as this will provide a record that it was sent to the correct party.
It is a misconception that this document must be sent by an attorney, although having an attorney or law firm name on the letter may put more pressure on the other party. However, the actual content of the letter is fairly simple. You can use one of Nolo's free samples included below, Trademark Cease and Desist Letter and Cease and Desist for Collections.
After giving the party time to respond to or cease the activity, you should consider your next steps. The letter may only be the first step in resolving the conflict. If the party asserts he or she is not legally required to stop the activity, such as if there is a disagreement over whether or not a term of the contract has been breached, you may be able to negotiate a compromise.
If you are not able to reach a compromise, or if the letter and subsequent notices are ignored, the next step may be filing a lawsuit. Here you may be awarded damages for any harm caused by the activity, or have the court stop the activity through a cease and desist order.