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Cease and Desist Letters: Defined, Usage, and Samples

Published September 29, 2021

At first, a cease and desist letter may seem intimidating regardless of whether you are receiving one or writing one. However, certain misconceptions surrounding cease-and-desist should be noted before choosing to write or respond to one. 

cease and desist letter is a non-legally binding document which means that the letter cannot force you or someone else to do or cease anything. There are no direct legal consequences if the party receiving the letter refuses to cooperate with the demands of the notice. Although many attorneys are often hired to draft a cease-and-desist letter, it does not mandate legal expertise. Cease-and-desist is used to deescalate conflict surfacing from alleged illegal or certain activity. The letter details what the alleged misconduct is and demands that it can longer continue. Depending on the situation, writers will include evidence of the behavior and specify what law was violated. The letter will then state that the action the other party is performing must stop, or legal action will be taken against them. The notice usually lays out deadlines that the other party must respond to or abide by to resolve the dispute. If the receiving party chooses to ignore the letter, it is implied that the writer will follow through on their threat and initiate a lawsuit potentially using the letter as evidence of prior notice to the offending party.

A cease and desist letter serves as a warning that potential legal action may be taken if the offending party continues with their behavior. Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, and many people prefer to settle matters outside of the court whenever possible. A cease and desist letter is the quickest and easiest method to settle matters. In the case that the other party ignores the attempted communication, as mentioned supra, the cease-and-desist letter can be used in court as evidence that the non-compliant party was aware of their actions but continued to engage in them.

Cease and desist letters are frequently facilitated in intellectual property rights infringement; this includes copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Individuals that own the intellectual property will use the letter to inform the offender of their rights as the property holder and may contain licensing proof as evidence. It is up to the third party whether they continue to use the protected property and their willingness to endure a lawsuit.

In contrast to a cease and desist letter, a cease-and-desist orders holds different consequences. These types of orders are established by public entities typically, administrative agencies or courts, when a party petitions the court and proves that the non-compliant party is violating the law. A cease-and-desist order communicates that the offending party is prohibited from engaging in the specified legal activity or they will face specific penalties, such as fines or jail time. Orders can be more effective since they carry the weight of the court and are legally binding. However, similarly to cease-and-desist letters, they are only the first step in the legal process.  

Cease-and-desist letters are an essential initial step to litigation that provides the opportunity for settlement before the dispute reaches the court. To learn more about cease-and-desist or to look at a cease-and-desist example, please refer to Callahan & Blaine’s Cease and Desist Letter summary or Netflix’s letter that was sent to a Stranger Things themed pop-up bar. There are also cease-and-desist letter templates for harassment, debt collection, trademark infringement, copyright infringement, and defamation cases.