While a cease and desist letter doesn't have a legal effect in and of itself, it's often a good way to begin the process of stopping someone from engaging in an activity that is harming you in some way.
Such documents are easy to write and, unless you hire an attorney to write them, usually quite cost-effective.
What is a cease and desist letter for?
A cease and desist letter is useful because it might stop its recipients from continuing their harmful action.
If they don't, you have written documentation that you have notified them of the possible consequences of ignoring your request.
Common uses for a cease and desist letter
When you send someone a cease and desist letter, you are asking them to stop engaging in a particular activity that is harmful to you in some way. In addition to identifying the specific activity, the letter should also outline the potential consequences of not complying with your request.
Because the consequence is often a lawsuit, a cease and desist letter can be an effective tool to stop someone from doing something that is damaging to you or your business, without having to incur the cost of litigation.
Cease and desist letters are used in a number of situations, but the following four are the most common.
Infringement of an intellectual property right
Whether it's a copyright, trademark, or patent, your ownership of intellectual property gives you specific rights.
When someone uses your protected work without your consent, they are in breach of that right.
This breach, called an infringement, may be stopped by sending a cease and desist letter, which should also state what action constitutes the infringement.
Debt collection services
If you're being subjected to nonstop calls from a debt collection service or attorney, a cease and desist letter is an effective tool for getting them to stop harassing you by citing the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which governs how debt collectors must behave.
Under this law, if you send a letter to a debt collector asking them to stop contacting you, they must stop or face statutory penalties.
Keep in mind that even though the letter may stop a debt collector from contacting you, it doesn't do anything to eliminate your debt, which you will continue to owe.
Also, the letter only works with debt collection agencies and attorneys, not with in-house collections departments.
Slander and libel
When someone spreads rumors about you that are untrue, you or your business can suffer serious, irreparable harm. Such rumors are a form of defamation called slander if the untrue statements are made orally and libel if they are in writing.
If you're the subject of slanderous or libelous statements, a cease and desist letter can make the recipient retract what they've been saying or publishing.
Your letter should ideally state the specific defamatory statement, the reasons why it is untrue, and the damage you're suffering.
Also give the recipient a deadline by which they must retract their statements before you will need to take legal action.
A cease and desist letter may help put a stop to harassment. However, depending on who is doing the harassing, the letter may cause the harasser to react adversely, so you need to use your judgment before sending one.
If you feel a letter might serve to enrage your harasser, your best line of action might be to go directly to the courts for a restraining order.
It's a good idea to check the harassment laws in your state so you can accurately state your legal options.
Sending your cease and desist letter
Once you've written your letter, the next step is to send it via certified mail so you have a record that it has been sent.
The optimal result, of course, is that the recipient of your letter stops engaging in the activity that's harmful to you.
In some cases, however, your recipient might ignore your letter.
If they don't stop the activity as requested, you can assume that your cease and desist letter has made them fully aware of your intent to pursue further action.