Receiving a cease and desist letter is never nice and is usually highly stressful.
Most business owners have no idea how to react if one comes through certified mail (or via email or a phone call). In today’s business world, where intellectual property is a valuable asset, it is relatively easy to breach copyright or trademark or for an employee to pass on confidential information to their new employer. These circumstances, plus many others, can lead to a cease and desist letter being sent.
In this article, we explain what a cease and desist letter is and what you should do if you are unfortunate enough to receive one.
What is a cease and desist letter?
A cease and desist letter is a document sent to an individual or business to stop allegedly illegal activity. It is a formal pre-action document stipulating that if the recipient does not refrain from doing something or take a particular action by the date specified in the letter, legal action may be brought against them.
Further legal action may include a claim for damages or an application to the court for an injunction.
What type of actions can result in a cease and desist letter being sent?
Cease and desist letters are frequently used to stop and determine:
- Intellectual property infringements, especially concerning copyright and trademarks.
- Breach of contract
- Criminal damage
- Boundary disputes
- Harassment such as persistently trolling or abusing someone on social media
- Defamation, including false information appearing on a website
The advantage of sending a cease and desist letter is that it is often enough to jolt the recipient into stopping the action complained of, thereby preventing the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation.
What should I do if I receive a cease and desist letter?
Upon receipt of a cease and desist letter, the first thing to do is not to panic and ensure you are calm before you way up your options.
In terms of the letter itself, you have several options. You can;
- Ignore it: this is not a legally binding document. It is neither a Court summons nor a legally binding contract, so you are within your legal rights to ignore it - bearing in mind it could lead to the sender pursuing litigation. Time and money could be saved by complying now rather than later spending money on Court costs
- Comply: do what the letter asks of you as cease and desist may be cheaper, less stressful and, in the long run, better for your business. Even if you disagree with the content, if your actions are minor, is it worth the threat of legal proceedings looming over you?
- Respond: keep calm and respond reasonably, being measured and dealing with each aspect of the letter. Addressing the allegations, giving explanations, and negotiating are key to keeping both parties happy. If you are so inclined, send your own cease and desist but be prepared for further legal action
- Negotiate: it helps to talk and figure out a solution. If you’ve infringed an intellectual property right, could you suggest a licence to use their right?
Investigate the claim
After receiving the letter, you will likely need to conduct an internal investigation to establish if the allegations in the letter are true. This could include talking to employees as well as third-party contractors and freelancers.
For example, suppose you have recently updated your website landing pages and have received a strongly worded cease and desist letter alleging that some of the content has been lifted from the sender’s website.
In that case, you will need to talk to the person who wrote the content and establish how the duplication occurred. Or, using another example, If the letter states that your employees who park in a particular place are trespassing, it is essential to get all the facts before responding.
Can I ignore a cease and desist letter?
A cease and desist letter is not a court order, summons, or legally binding contract; it is merely a request that you stop the alleged wrongdoing. Therefore, you could, in theory, ignore it and hope the matter goes away. However, this strategy comes with considerable risk and could result in even more stress.
Ignoring a cease and desist letter means the sender will likely take further legal action. This will result in you having to contact a law firm and invest in legal advice, depending on how far the claimant is prepared to take the matter, attend an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) session or, worst-case scenario, a court hearing.
Cease and desist legal advice
Alongside conducting an internal investigation (if required), it is important to seek legal advice from a solicitor who is experienced in advising businesses on civil litigation matters.
Getting in touch with the right solicitor is especially important if the matter complained about relates to harassment, defamation, or breach of intellectual property. These can result in costly litigation and reputational damage if they are not swiftly dealt with.
If it becomes clear that the allegations are unequivocally true, it may be best to comply with the letter. This will save you angst and money and end the situation immediately.
You may find that you must deal with an internal disciplinary situation if the letter was sent due to one of your employee’s actions. If you are unsure how to go about this without risking an Employment Tribunal claim, a solicitor will be able to guide you through the process.
Get legal assistance from LawBite
Receiving a cease and desist letter may initially make you feel shocked and confused. Our friendly team of expert solicitors can help you understand why the letter was sent and the best course of action to take. You can relax knowing that we are taking care of the situation and ensuring that your best interests are protected whilst we resolve the matter for you.
LawBite has years of experience helping startups and businesses achieve their commercial ambitions and resolve disputes quickly and cost-effectively.