How do I Write a Cease and Desist Letter?
There are a couple of different ways to go about writing a cease and desist letter, but in most cases there are three essential things you’ll need to include: a statement of what you think the recipient is doing wrong; what you want them to do about it; and what you intend to do if they don’t comply. This sort of letter isn’t usually seen as a legal instrument, and as such it doesn’t normally have to follow any set format and it doesn’t have to be filed with a court. Neither does it have to be written by a lawyer. Just the same, it’s often a good idea to keep your tone formal and your statements brief and professional. Depending on the circumstances, this letter could become the basis of a lawsuit later on, and should this occur it’s in your best interest for the letter to be as polished and respectful as possible. Many legal groups offer free templates online that you can follow, often with sample language and model paragraphs.
Identify Your Goals
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify the problem as precisely as you can. There are many reasons a person might write a cease and desist letter. Personal matters like harassment or continuous trespass are some examples; harassment by a creditor, slander by a person or organization, or unauthorized uses of trademarks or copyrights are also common. These sorts of letters are usually sent when you believe that a judge would order the other party to stop the action if the matter went to court, but you want to avoid legal action.
It’s also important to realize what this sort of letter can’t do. For instance, it can’t actually make someone stop a behavior — it can only ask, and draw attention to the problem. If you are writing the letter to stop a behavior that is imminently dangerous or that puts your or others in harm’s way, it may be wiser to seek a more formal legal tool like a restraining order. You will also need to be prepared for the recipient to respond with demands of his or her own. Sometimes people get these sorts of letters and simply change their ways, but not always. Before sitting down to write, you should think through all the potential outcomes, and plan accordingly.
Set Out the Specifics
There are a few basic things all cease and desist letters should include, starting with the full names of both you or the organization you represent and all recipients. You should also specifically describe the action, including dates, times, and any details that are available. In many copyright and trademark matters, letter writers include extensive appendices demonstrating all of the allegedly improper uses. This can both highlight the scope of the problem and serve as an archived record of wrongdoing.
If the action you want stopped seems to violate any laws, you should name those, as well. You don’t need to get into specifics, but stating that a certain activity violates a certain named law is often more powerful and persuasive than simply asserting something vague like “your activities are illegal.”
State the Consequences of Inaction
Another important component of the letter is a brief statement of what you intend to do if the recipient doesn’t do as you ask. In most instances this is phrased as a direct demand that the action stop, and a deadline should typically be given. Sometimes, you’ll want the action to stop immediately; in other instances, a few weeks or months is more realistic. A lot depends on the circumstances. It’s sometimes also a good idea to tell the recipient that you intend to file a formal lawsuit if things don’t change as requested.
Focus on Actions, Not Emotions
It’s often the case that these sorts of letters are only written once problems have been going on for a long time, and in these situations emotions often run strong. It’s really important that you keep a neutral, formal tone, though. The cease and desist letter should not use abusive or profane language or make threats beyond those of following up within the legal system. Remember that, if further legal action is required, the letter will likely become part of the official court record. This would make the letter a document that would be reviewed by the courts and would make it a part of public record, and it could reflect badly on you if it’s unprofessional or highly emotional.
Think About Formatting
There isn’t really a “wrong” way to write this sort of letter, but erring on the side of formality is usually the best course of action. In general, the letter should be in the format of a business letter. Your name and address, the recipient’s name and address, and the date of the letter should precede the body. The letter should include your original signature at the end, and you should keep at least one copy of the original letter.
It's also a good idea to send the letter by certified mail, as this will force the recipient to acknowledge receipt and will give you a record of the same. This means that the person cannot claim the letter was not received should further legal action ever be necessary.
@cardsfan27 - I would say the punishment depends on the crime. If you are using someone's patent or trademark and making money off of it, you could be forced to pay back any and all profits. That is what happens a lot of times when someone infringes the copyright of a song. In the collection agency example, the company may be responsible for harassment charges.
There are some companies that are more understanding of people using their logos. I remember a while back there was a group who made a bunch of shirts for their event that looked like the front of a Jack Daniels bottle. The Jack Daniels company saw the shirts and sent a cease and desist letter.
At the same time, though, they said they appreciated the gesture and would allow the group to sell whatever shirts they had left or something along those lines. They were very understanding of the situation and didn't go overboard in threatening legal action.
Out of curiosity, what happens if you do get a cease and desist letter and don't stop? Maybe more importantly, what actions can someone take against you?
I always like hearing stories about companies sending cease and desist letters for trivial things. It seems like certain companies or brands are extremely jealous of anyone using their ideas.
I know that the International Olympic Committee is very strict about the usage of the word "olympics." I remember right before the London Olympics that there were a group of knitters that were having the Knitting Olympics or something like that, and they got a letter saying they couldn't use that word.
To me it seems pretty silly. No one is going to confuse their little event with the real Olympics. At the same time, the Committee should realize that Olympics has become a term for anything where the best people of some event come together.
@jmc88 - That sounds like an annoying situation to be in. I would guess that if you just search for cease and desist letter examples online that you will come up with plenty of ideas. If they are still calling, I would suggest getting the names of the people you are talking to each day for future reference.
If they won't give you the address, I would just get the name of the company and send it to their main headquarters. Just a quick online search should come up with that, as well. Like the article mentions, make sure you send the letter through certified mail so they can't claim they never saw it. Good luck.
I didn't know that just anyone could write a cease and desist letter. I thought it was something that an attorney had to be involved with. My wife and I are needing to use a cease and desist order, because we have been getting harassing phone calls from a collection agency. We just got a new cell phone number, and it apparently belonged to someone who has been skipping out on her bills. We have told them each time that the phone number does not belong to that individual and have asked them to stop calling, but it hasn't worked.
Does a cease and desist order always have to be in the form of a letter, or will us telling them to stop calling be justifiable in court, as well? If it comes down to us having the write a letter, what should be included in it? Does anyone know of a good cease and desist letter template? Also, how do we get the address to send it to if the person over the phone won't tell us?
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