What Is a Cease and Desist Letter?
A cease and desist letter, also known as a stop harassment or demand letter, is a written notice that formally requests an individual or business to stop (cease) engaging in unlawful or unwanted behavior (desist).
Usually, the letter will threaten legal action if the problems continue.
Is a Cease and Desist Letter Legally Enforceable?
A cease and desist letter is not legally enforceable, but it is nonetheless an effective tool to protect yourself or your business. The letter simply serves as a warning to another party that unless they stop engaging in certain behavior, you may take legal action.
You don’t need to be a lawyer (or hire one) to send someone a cease and desist. By sending a cease and desist notice, you might successfully convince or intimidate your harasser or infringer to stop their behavior without a lawsuit, saving you time, money, and effort.
Sending a Cease and Desist Letter (Downloadable Templates)
If a person or organization is violating your legal rights, you need to send the appropriate cease and desist letter. Most commonly, you may need to send a cease and desist letter for harassment, debt collection, trademark or copyright infringement, or defamation.
If you’re receiving persistent personal or sexual harassment, unwanted treatment, or being threatened, use a cease and desist harassment letter. (Skip ahead if debt collectors are harassing you.)
2. Debt Collection
If a debt collection agency is overwhelming you with excessive phone calls, use a cease and desist debt collection letter to demand that they stop.
3. Trademark Infringement
If another person or business is infringing on your trademark, use a cease and desist trademark infringement letter to explain why it’s confusing for customers, and demand that they stop using it.
4. Copyright Infringement
If someone blatantly copies, steals, or imitates your original work or website, use a cease and desist copyright infringement letter to demand that they provide proper credit or stop immediately.
If someone is slandering or libeling you or your business, use a cease and desist defamation letter to demand that they stop making such claims.
How to Write a Cease and Desist Letter
To write a cease and desist letter, you can:
- use an online cease and desist builder
- download a template and fill in the blanks, or
- write the entire letter yourself.
While you don’t need to be an attorney or expert to write and send a cease and desist letter, it may be beneficial to do so if your case is complicated. If you decide to write your own cease and desist, make sure the letter sounds as intimidating as possible. You’ll need to include the following information in your letter:
- Recipient: the individual or business who needs to stop the harassment, defamation, unreasonable debt collection, or copyright/trademark infringement
- Sender: the individual or business requesting that the recipient stop their unlawful behavior
- Unlawful Behavior: a detailed description of the behavior and why it’s unlawful and harmful
- Legal Action: a warning that a lawsuit will be initiated if the behavior doesn’t stop
- Date: the date when the letter is sent to the recipient
Cease and Desist FAQ
How do I serve a cease and desist letter?
You should serve a cease and desist letter via certified mail, if you’re sending the letter yourself. That way, you’ll get a return receipt proving that your letter was received by the offending party. This will provide you with peace of mind, and also allow you to gather evidence against the offender in the event that you need to take legal action.
While certified mail is the best option, you can also serve the letter via email, an attorney, or even in person. No matter how you send it, experts recommend keeping your own copy of the cease and desist letter, in addition to the return receipts.
How do I respond to a cease and desist letter?
How you respond to a cease and desist letter depends on whether you’re truly violating someone’s rights. You could respond by:
- ceasing the behavior outlined in the letter (if you’re clearly in violation),
- replying with a letter explaining why you won’t comply with the letter (if you’re clearly not in violation), or
- ignoring the cease and desist letter (if you feel it’s not serious at all).
Receiving a cease and desist letter is a stressful experience. Remember that it’s often the initial response by an offended party, so you must carefully consider how to respond. If you choose to respond, always be to be respectful, professional, and polite.
View the letter as an opportunity to verify whether you are or aren’t in violation of someone’s rights. You can then choose to ignore them, open a dialogue with them, or try to negotiate an agreement outside of court.
What if I ignore a cease and desist letter?
There’s no legal penalty or repercussion for ignoring a cease and desist, but you risk the sender beginning legal proceedings against you if their claims are legally sound. However, if you’re confident that the content of the letter is inaccurate or unenforceable, you can safely ignore a cease and desist letter.
Still, it’s better to respond with a letter explaining your position, and your reason for non-compliance. Whether you ignore or respond to the letter, the other party may continue to send correspondence.