A cease and desist letter aims to resolve a dispute before it ever goes to court. This written notice requests that an individual or business stop some action that infringes on your rights. It may ask that the other party halt the illegal activity or end some form of harassment.
A free cease and desist letter puts you in control and may help you prevent any further illegal action. You can use this document to alert the party in question, letting them know they are infringing on your rights and that there may be legal consequences if they fail to stop.
What is a Cease and Desist Letter?
As stated, a cease and desist letter lets another party know that they are engaging in an action or behavior that infringes on your legal rights and requests that this action or behavior stop. It also warns the other party that if this illegal action or behavior continues — and consequently violates your liberties in some way — you will take legal action against them.
A cease and desist letter, also known as a demand letter, is not a legal document but rather an attempt to avoid legal action by getting ahead of the problem.
That’s why it warns of potential legal action if the matter is ignored. Because litigation can be time-consuming and incredibly expensive for everyone involved, including you, most individuals and businesses adhere to the request of a cease and desist letter and stop the questionable action or behavior, oftentimes unaware that a legal violation was taking place.
In many cases, a cease and desist letter may be all it takes to prevent any further infringement of your rights. The threat of legal action is often sufficient to prevent any further controversy.
A lawsuit may be necessary, though, if a cease and desist letter fails to accomplish its intended goal. Legal action may be taken against a breach of contract, for example, or a trademark infringement when the party in question ignores your request to cease and desist in the illegal actions or behaviors that are infringing on your rights.
What is a Cease and Desist Order?
Unlike its letter counterpart, a cease and desist order — also known as a restraining order or an injunction — has different legal consequences. Typically issued by an official source such as a court or governmental agency, a cease and desist order is a legally binding demand. Failure to comply with the legal terms outlined in the order can result in legal ramifications for the violating party.
Penalties for violating a cease and desist order may include:
- Fines or other injunctive relief
- A finding that the party breached the contract
- Being found in contempt of court
- Potential jail or prison time
Courts and government agencies typically issue a cease and desist order in response to a lawsuit or other legal filing. State law and the specific facts of your case will dictate how the request must be made before the court and under what circumstances it may be granted. This is a formal motion in which both sides will be able to brief the court. Ultimately, the court or government agency decides whether it will issue a cease and desist order.
How to Write a Cease and Desist Letter
You can write your own cease and desist letter without the assistance of an attorney. Because these are not legal documents, a form builder or template may greatly assist you in putting together the letter you need to seek an end to certain actions or behaviors that are infringing on your liberties.
When writing the letter, you must be clear about two things:
- The illegal action or behavior that must cease.
- Why this action or behavior violates your legal rights in some way.
There are several options to assist you in putting together 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
- Pen the entire letter yourself.
While you don’t need to be an attorney or expert to write and send a cease and desist letter, hiring a lawyer can be especially beneficial if your case is complicated.
If you decide to write your own cease and desist letter, the tone should be formal and legally intimidating. It should also include the following information.
- Recipient: the party that needs to stop the harassment, defamation, unreasonable debt collection, copyright violation, or trademark infringement
- Sender: the individual or business requesting that the recipient stop their unlawful action or behavior
- Unlawful Behavior: a detailed description of the action or behavior and why it’s unlawful and harmful
- Legal Action: a warning that a lawsuit will be initiated if the action or behavior does not stop
- Signature: the sender’s legal signature near the bottom of the document
- Date: the date when the letter is sent to the recipient
All of the information in your cease and desist letter must be accurate. Only threaten legal action based on actions or behaviors that specifically violate your legal rights in some way.
When you finish writing your letter, you should send it to the individual or business in question via certified mail. This helps document that they received the letter — a fact they cannot deny it if a legal proceeding is necessary later on.
5 Ways to Use a Cease and Desist Letter
Here are five ways that a cease and desist letter can be used to stop an individual or a business from infringing on your rights.
Harassment can take many forms. If you have been on the receiving end of unwanted advances or sexual harassment, for example, preparing and sending a cease and desist letter to the perpetrator documents the abuse and formally requests that it stop.
Bullying and threats are also considered forms of harassment. While these behaviors can happen anywhere, they most commonly occur in workplace settings between employees, for instance, or between an employee and a supervisor.
Harassment is generally illegal, and a cease and desist letter can help document what you have endured. The threat of legal action can also help put a stop to the abuse, scaring the other party into more appropriate behavior.
Even if the other party stops, this does not preclude you from filing a grievance or legal action as the result of the harassment you have already been through. Doing so may provide you with useful evidence of the conduct and serve as proof of your responsible handling of a difficult situation.
2. Debt Collection
Debt collection agencies are famous for their harassing and often illegal conduct. You may be inundated with excessive phone calls, letters, and other forms of contact. These may be at odd hours or so frequent as to constitute some type of unlawful activity.
Federal and state laws govern how debt collectors may attempt to collect what is owed. Failures to abide by these laws may entitle you to send a cease and desist letter to a debt collector and possibly take legal action against them if the harassment does not stop.
A debt collection cease and desist letter typically includes information related to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), also known as 15 USC § 1692. The threat of legal action under this law, enacted in 1978, often has a powerful effect on debt collectors.
Violations can result in significant penalties against the debt collection agency if it does not comply with the FDCPA. If you send a cease and desist letter against a debt collection agency, it may stop the conduct that violates your legal rights.
3. Trademark Infringement
A trademark is an important piece of intellectual property that deserves powerful protection. It identifies your brand and represents your product. A valid trademark is legally protected from use by other parties.
Infringing on a trademark can lead to federal claims of trademark violations and may result in substantial civil damages. A cease and desist letter can help stop further trademark infringement without the need to file a civil claim.
If another party is using a mark or logo that’s very similar — or nearly identical — to yours, they may not be aware of it. They also may not know that their mark or logo has caused or is causing brand confusion with your own trademark. A cease and desist letter informs the other party of trademark infringement, requesting that they stop these actions or face litigation for violating your trademark.
Most individuals and businesses will adhere to your cease and desist request to avoid a costly legal battle. If they do not halt the illegal actions that infringe on your trademark, you always have the option to follow up on your legal threat and file a lawsuit against them.
4. Copyright Infringement
When a company or individual owns the copyright to a protected work, there is substantial value in guarding its use. A copyright holder is granted specific rights under federal law, which typically include:
- The right to sell and produce copies of the protected work.
- The right to create any derivative products based on the original work.
- Legal rights to assign or sell legal rights to use the product to others.
- The right to perform, present, or display the copyrighted work in public.
These and many other protected rights may be violated by an unscrupulous third party. Organizations or individuals who engage in this illegal conduct are likely in violation of federal copyright law. A cease and desist letter may halt this other party’s unauthorized use of the product and stop future damage. Threatening legal action may be enough to stop the offending conduct or violation.
A copyright infringement letter may also seek compensation for the use of the protected work. Many may want to allow a third party to sell their copyrighted books, for example, if the third party compensates them for this.
A cease and desist letter concerning copyright infringement gives you the flexibility to decide how you want your protected work used. In this case, you are not bound to a specific option but can choose what is right for your particular situation.
Defamation occurs when another party is making untrue and harmful statements about you or your company. These statements can be incredibly harmful to your reputation and your bottom line. A cease and desist letter may help prevent any future occurrences of these false statements.
Defamation occurs in two primary categories:
- Slander: a spoken, defamatory statement uttered in public or to other parties.
- Defamation: a false or defamatory written statement made in an email, article, press release, advertisement, or any other published medium.
The legal distinction between the two is usually immaterial for a cease and desist letter. If a person or company spreads false or inaccurate information in written or spoken statements, a cease and desist letter may help prevent future violations of your rights.
Sample Cease and Desist Letters
When a person or organization violates your legal rights, a cease and desist letter may be the appropriate course of action to put a stop to it. The following sample letters can help you start protecting your legal rights.
How to Send a Cease and Desist Letter
As previously stated, if you’re preparing and sending a cease and desist letter yourself, you should do so via certified mail. That way, you have a return receipt proving that your letter was received by the other party. This will not only provide you with peace of mind but will also allow you to gather evidence against the offending party if you eventually take legal action.
While certified mail is the best option, you can also serve the letter via email, through an attorney, or have it delivered in person.
No matter how you send it, experts recommend keeping your own copy of the cease and desist letter as well as the return receipt. Proper documentation of the letter you send and any receipt information may play a critical role in any future legal disputes.
What Happens After Sending a Cease and Desist Letter?
After you send a cease and desist letter, you should wait for a response from the offending party. If you gave them a deadline to respond or end the offending conduct, you should wait until this time has passed before taking further action. Ultimately, how long you should wait is based on your circumstances and what you need to do to protect your legal rights.
If you receive a favorable response to the letter, negotiations may be possible with the other party. But if you receive an unfavorable response or your letter is ignored, it is likely time to take the legal action you threatened in your letter.
It is often best to follow through with any legal repercussions listed in your letter to show that you are serious about protecting your rights. You may want to retain an attorney and seek their advice on how to proceed.
Benefits of Using a Cease and Desist Letter
There are many advantages to sending a cease and desist letter. Here are a few of them.
- Reduces Costs: if a cease and desist letter stops the illegal action or behavior, you may be spared the high cost of filing a lawsuit
- Outlines Your Position: a cease and desist letter specifies what your rights are and how the offending party has violated them
- Serves as Useful Evidence: a cease and desist letter — and any responses to it — documents the other party’s infractions and can be helpful if the matter heads to court.
- Offers a Glimpse into Possible Defenses: if the other party denies your allegations, they may include their justification for continuing with the conduct, giving you a glimpse of their possible legal defenses should the issue go to trial.
- May Provide Immediate Relief: if the offending party immediately stops the action or behavior that infringes on your rights, you will receive immediate relief, protecting your livelihood, your mental health, and your legal liberties.
With a free cease and desist letter from Legal Templates, you can reap all of these benefits by creating and formatting a document that fits your individual needs and protects your rights.
Cease and Desist FAQ
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.
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.