Cease and Desist Order

An official order handed down by a government agency or court directing a person or entity to stop doing something immediately is called a “cease and desist order.” Such an order effectively places an injunction on the person or entity that prohibits the named activity as suspicious or illegal. Cease and desist orders may also be issued to force a person or entity to refrain from a labor practice or method of competition deemed unfair. To explore this concept, consider the following cease and desist order definition.

Definition of Cease and Desist

Both words are verbs

  1. To stop, discontinue, or bring to an end.
  2. To stop doing something.

What is a Cease and Desist Order

An individual or entity may ask the court to issue a cease and desist order for any number of reasons. Such an order often serves as a temporary injunction to suspend a party’s activity until a trial can be held to determine whether or not it should be allowed to continue. After such a hearing, the court may issue a permanent injunction ordering that the activity be permanently stopped.

For example, a public figure fears he will be defamed or “libeled,” in a book that is about to be published. He may petition the court for a cease and desist order stopping the publishing process until a trial can be held to determine whether the book contains libelous statements about the person. After such a trial, the judge may determine that the book does not rise to the standard of defamation and allow publication to continue, or he may issue a permanent injunction on the book in its current form.

Cease and Desist Letter

In order to act quickly, individuals and entities may issue a cease and desist letter asking another individual or entity to stop some illegal or suspect activity. Cease and desist letters typically threaten the person or entity to whom they are sent with legal action if they do not stop a specified activity. For instance, an individual who holds a provisional patent on a product may have an attorney send a cease and desist letter to a company about to manufacture and sell a very similar product. Another example would be a corporation sending a cease and desist letter to a former employee about to release trade secrets.

Controversy over Cease and Desist Letters

Some people view the use of cease and desist letters as a form of intimidation that has the ability to silence or obstruct people who are not familiar with the law. This is because such a demand letter implies that the recipient is engaging in some type of illegal activity, and will be punished if he does not stop. In reality, such a threat of legal action has no legal significance other than being a negotiation tactic. There are, however, certain circumstances in which threat of legal action in a cease and desist letter is significant:

  • Establishing notice – through the issuance of such a letter, the receiving party is put “on notice” of the specified circumstances, and cannot later claim they were unaware.
  • Signifying Extortion – inappropriate threats of harm, even if it is not bodily harm, may constitute an attempt to extort or blackmail the recipient, or constitute some other crime.
  • Right to sue for declaratory judgment – threatening to take action on an alleged, yet untrue violation of law may give the receiving party the right to sue in civil court for a judgment that no violation in fact exists. This may, in turn, become a complaint of defamation.

Reasons for Sending a Cease and Desist Letter

Cease and desist letters are used for many purposes, but basically they all say the same thing: stop doing what you are doing. The most common acts that prompt the use of such a demand letter include:

  • Harassment – A letter demanding that an individual stop harassing activities should include the dates of the harassment, a description of the unwanted actions, and the date on which further action will be taken if the harassment does not stop.
  • Copyright Infringement – An individual or entity that suspects someone else is using their copyrighted works without permission may take the first step to protecting their works by sending a cease and desist letter. The letter should contain details about the copyrighted work, proof of ownership of the copyright, and an account of how the copyright has been infringed upon.
  • Trademark Infringement – While written works are assumed copyrighted when written, a trademark must be registered with the government, making it easier to enforce. A cease and desist letter should include a description of the logo or design that has been infringed upon, the date used, and what actions the recipient should take.
  • Debt Collections – A cease and desist letter may be used to stop harassing debt collection tactics, and should include the dates and methods of contact, and why the collection efforts are burdensome. The letter should also contain the account number, amount of debt, and documentation that may help stop the harassment.

When sending a cease and desist letter, it is customary to allow 10-15 days for the recipient to respond. This allows the recipient time to receive and review the letter, consider their legal rights, and return the letter with a response. Sending the letter by email can significantly reduce sending and response time, but the sender should be sure to obtain delivery or read receipts to keep track of dates and times of correspondence.

Cease and Desist Letter Template

Cease and desist letter templates are available from a variety of online sources. Preparing such a letter is not difficult in most cases. Information that should be included in every cease and desist letter includes:

  • The sender’s name, address, and phone number
  • The name and address of the individual or entity to whom the letter is being sent
  • The date of the letter
  • A clear statement of the actions the sender is demanding be stopped
  • A clear demand that the action be stopped
  • A warning that, should the action not be stopped, legal action will be taken
  • A time limit for complying with the demand (usually 7-10 days)

Whether a cease and desist letter template is used or not, it is a good idea to send the cease and desist letter via personal delivery, with a signed affidavit of service, or via certified mail with signature required.

How to Get a Cease and Desist Order

Obtaining a cease and desist order involves filing a lawsuit or other court action, requesting that the court order the perpetrator to stop the action. Just what type of court action is required depends on the specific circumstances. For example, obtaining a cease and desist order for harassment may actually require an application for a restraining order. In the event the matter evolves to this stage, it is a good idea to consult an experienced attorney.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Injunction – A court order preventing an individual or entity from beginning or continuing an action.
  • Libelous – A written or pictorial statement that is defamatory in nature.
  • Defamation – An intentional false statement that harms a person’s reputation, or which decreases the respect or regard in which a person is held.