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What Does It Mean to Cease and Desist?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cease and desist could be called “stop and don’t do it any more,” and it typically is a legal term that may be used by courts, or sometimes by individuals and lawyers to get a person or entity to stop engaging in a particular activity. When issued by a court or judge, it is called a cease and desist order. The other context in which this can be used is if a person, possibly with a lawyer’s help, writes a cease and desist letter, where legal action is threatened if the person (or business) does not discontinue engaging in a certain activity.

There are many possible scenarios under which a judge could issue a cease and desist order. Sometimes this order is temporary. The person asked to stop an activity may only be asked to stop until a court hearing can determine the legality of the activity. If the person’s acts are truly found to be outside of the law, the order could become permanent. In other circumstances, the person or entity engaging in the activity is clearly doing something illegal, and no hearing is required to determine this. In these cases, judges at various levels of the court may be empowered to issue an order banning a behavior that is permanent.

Another use of cease and desist is when people write letters to others asking them to stop engaging in a certain activity. This could be an infringement on the copyright rights of an individual or company, it might be a request to stop libel or slander, or it may be due to harassment that is illegal. For instance, a collection agency, in many circumstances, cannot legally contact a person more than once more, after receiving request the company abstain from future contact with the person owing the money. Sometimes the matter is so grievous that it needs to be enforced by the courts, such as harassment that threatens violence, but usually when people write these letters there is merely an implication that continuing an activity will result in legal action.

One common form of these letters is to stop continuing copyright infringement, especially on the Internet. Companies like wiseGEEK may often need to write these letters when they find that their articles have been copied and used without permission on other people’s or company’s websites. An initial step in pursuing this is to ask people to stop via letter. This could be followed by legal action if the letter is ignored.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By GreenWeaver — On Sep 28, 2011

I remember a few months ago that the reality personality Kim Kardashian created a legal cease and desist order against Old Navy because she claims that the model that was used in the advertisement looks just like her and this is infringement of her likeness.

She even sent a cease and desist form to newspaper that had the advertisement. I personally think that this is a little ridiculous. How can you say that you have a trademark on your looks? If someone that looks a lot like a celebrity is not able to work because it would infringe on the celebrities’ rights.

What about the rights of the average person that happens to look like a celebrity? You can’t stop people from making a living and nowhere in the commercial was Kardashian’s name mentioned nor anything that would allude to her celebrity.

I think that some people need to realize that they are not that important and find something better to do with their time.

By Clairdelune — On Sep 28, 2011

I'm sure that there are people who are harassed over the internet, the telephone or by letter about all kinds of things. Maybe a former wife is being harassed by her ex or an ex-employee is harassing her company because she was fired.

If the harassment is mild, a cease and desist letter would be worth trying. But if there are real threats and you feel like you're in danger, talk to a lawyer.

By B707 — On Sep 27, 2011

With so many people writing independently on their blogs and websites, it is very tempting to copy parts of articles or even entire articles to their website. I think some think it is a free for all in internet land.

I think that I would write the first cease and desist letter, just to let them know that they have been caught. Then if it happens again, I would threaten legal action.

By starrynight — On Sep 27, 2011

@Azuza - You're right, sometimes that is enough. However, I don't think anyone should be sending a "cease and desist" letter unless they really plan on following up with legal action.

I could see something like that really backfiring. What if the person had called your friends bluff and published even more of her copyrighted material? If she had money to hire a lawyer this wouldn't be a problem, but she would have been out of luck if she didn't!

By Azuza — On Sep 26, 2011

I've heard that sending an official looking cease and desist letter is almost as good as having a court send an order. A friend of mine was dealing with a copyright infringement issue awhile back.

She didn't have a lot of money to hire a lawyer though. She did a little bit of research and drafted a "cease and desist" letter, informing the person she would pursue legal action if they didn't stop infringing her copyright.

Sure enough, the offender took the material off of their website. My friend never even had to hire a lawyer to assist her!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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