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A cease and desist letter, also known as "infringement letter" or "demand letter," is an aggressive-toned document sent to an individual or business to halt purportedly unlawful activity ("cease") and not take it up again later ("desist"). The letter may warn that if the recipient by deadlines set in the letter does not cease and desist specified conduct, or take certain actions, that party may be sued. The letter may demand money as payment for damages, attorneys' fees and costs.
In most jurisdictions sending a cease and desist letter is not required as a prelude to litigation, as the victim of an infringement may simply file a lawsuit. However, if a letter contains terms and conditions to fully resolve the matter, the sender will agree not to file suit if the recipient complies with the sender's demands.
Although cease and desist letters are not exclusively used in the area of intellectual property, such letters "are frequently utilized in disputes concerning intellectual property and represent an important feature of the intellectual property law landscape." The holder of an intellectual property right such as a copyrighted work, a trademark, or a patent, may send the cease and desist letter to inform a third party "of the right holders' rights, identity, and intentions to enforce the rights." The letter may merely contain a licensing offer, or may be an explicit threat of a lawsuit. A cease and desist letter often triggers licensing negotiations, and is a frequent first step towards litigation.
Receiving numerous cease and desist letters may be very costly for the recipient. Each claim in the letters has to be evaluated, and it should be decided whether to answer to the letters, "whether or not to obtain an attorney's opinion letter, prepare for a lawsuit, and perhaps initiate [in case of letters regarding a potential patent infringement] a search for alternatives and the development of design-around technologies."
Cease and desist letters are sometimes used to intimidate recipients and can be "an effective tool used by corporations to chill the critical speech of gripe sites operators." A company owning a trademark may send such letter to a gripe site operator alleging a trademark infringement, although the actual use of the trademark by the gripe site operator may fall under a fair use exception (in compliance with, in the U.S., the protection of free speech under the First Amendment).
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