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.