Cease and desist
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A cease and desist is an order or request to halt an activity (cease) and not to take it up again later (desist) or else face legal action. The recipient of the cease-and-desist may be an individual or an organization.
In the U.S. the term is used in two different contexts. A cease-and-desist order can be issued by a judge or government authority, and has a well-defined legal meaning. In contrast, a cease-and-desist letter can be sent by anyone, although typically they are drafted by a lawyer.
A judge may issue a cease-and-desist order with the intent to halt an illegal activity. This prohibition is sometimes used as the outcome of a trial, in which case it is a permanent injunction against the activity. It can also be used as an emergency measure to prevent possibly irreparable harm, in which case it takes the form of a temporary injunction. An injunction against speech issued before it occurs (e.g. preventing a pending publication) is called prior restraint.
Use by administrative agencies
Many government administrative agencies also have the ability to issue cease-and-desist orders and frequently use them to halt the sale of unregistered or fraudulent securities, to halt banking practices that would possibly be dangerous to institutions and to enforce licensing statutes. These orders usually specify a period of time for the recipient of the order to request a hearing. If a hearing is not requested by the recipient in the given time, the cease-and-desist order becomes final and the agency has the ability to enforce its order in a court of law.
A cease-and-desist letter is a letter demanding that the recipient refrain from a certain behavior or face legal action. Some types of behaviors that may prompt such letters include:
- Harassment by telephone by a collection agency or junk debt buyers
- Stalking or other forms of harassment
- Property, neighborhood, and boundary disputes
- Patent infringement, copyright infringement or trademark infringement
- Libel or slander
- Terms of service violation
In the case of stalking and harassment, the letter usually demands that the recipient cease the threatening behavior or face criminal charges.
In the case of property and boundary disputes, the letter demands that the recipient cease activity that negatively impacts their neighbors. Some examples include holding loud parties late at night, leaving a dog outside to bark all day, cutting down trees that stand on public or jointly owned land, or building a fence that infringes on someone else's property.
In the case of copyright or trademark infringement, libel, and slander, the letter typically threatens a civil lawsuit if the recipient continues the undesired activity. It is similar in form, although not in function, to a demand letter, which alerts the recipient to a pending claim for money damages, usually as a result of a tort or a breach of contract.
In the US, a recipient of a cease-and-desist letter who is placed in a "reasonable apprehension" of litigation may respond through a request for declaratory judgment proceeding in his own jurisdiction.
Civil liberties and free speech groups such as the ACLU have criticized cease-and-desist letters.