If someone is defaming or harassing you online, your first priority is likely to bring that situation to an end as soon as possible. Sending a defamation cease and desist letter is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to stop defamatory behavior.
A cease and desist letter for defamation informs the recipient that you will take further legal action against them if they do not stop their defamatory statements about you. The letter should clearly identify the defamatory statements and specify the ways in which they are harming your or your business’s reputation.
At Minc Law, our experienced legal team has extensive experience analyzing defamation claims and crafting cease and desist letters to maximize chances of success – without drawing unwanted attention to the matter. We also can help explain your legal rights and provide guidance on filing suit or pursuing litigation alternatives to resolve internet defamation and avoid common pitfalls.
In this article, we explain why a defamation victim might want to issue a cease and desist letter. We then demonstrate the components of cease and desist letters and provide guidance to ensure yours is as effective as possible.
Reasons For Using a Cease & Desist Letter
If you or your business are being targeted by harmful online or offline content, a cease and desist letter may be your best choice for quickly bringing those defamatory statements (both libel and slander) to an end without having to wait for a lengthy legal process.
What Does a Cease & Desist Letter Do?
You can send a cease and desist letter to a person or entity who is behaving in potentially unlawful, unethical, or otherwise objectionable ways. The letter demands that the person stop (“cease”) the behavior immediately and refrain from repeating that behavior in the future (“desist”)—otherwise, you intend to move forward with legal action.
A cease and desist letter does not have binding legal authority on its own. Its power comes in persuading the recipient that removing the content at issue is better for them than the consequences of failing to do so. In that regard, a well-crafted cease and desist letter can resolve a conflict by warning the recipient of a potential lawsuit, especially when drafted by an experienced defamation attorney.
Even if you are relatively certain the recipient will not comply, cease and desist letters are still often a good first step. If and when the case moves into litigation, sending a cease and desist letter can show that the recipient had notice of the unlawful behavior but refused to stop.
How Are Cease & Desist Letters Different From Retraction Demands?
A retraction demand letter is similar to a cease and desist letter, but it goes one step further. It not only demands that the recipient stop the objectionable behavior, but publicly retract their words and actions. This public retraction usually involves taking down any online defamatory content and/or issuing a public apology or correction.
Which type of demand letter you send depends on your situation and objectives—and you may decide to send both. If you simply want the behavior to stop, a cease and desist letter on its own might be sufficient. But if you want a public apology or to remove defamatory content, you may want to send a retraction demand instead of or in addition to the cease and desist.
To learn more about when it is advisable to send a retraction demand letter, see our article: Can I Get a Defamation Retraction? Sending a Defamation Retraction Letter.
What is a Defamation Cease & Desist Letter Used For?
Cease and desist letters are used in any situation where a perpetrator is committing or threatening to commit behavior that violates the sender’s rights. These letters lay out the problem and suggest a solution (i.e., that the recipient changes their behavior) to avoid taking the matter to court.
In the context of defamation, a cease and desist letter is used to stop false statements made online, in print, and in speech. Some common defamation examples where a cease and desist letter might come into play include:
- Inaccurate information in news articles;
- Fake online reviews;
- Untruthful social media posts, comments, and statuses;
- Posts on shaming and cheater websites accusing an individual of criminal activity, predatory behavior, or infidelity.
Some online defamatory statements are made by anonymous individuals. It is easy for defamers to create a pseudonymous profile or use a fake name on social media, which makes it difficult to track down the perpetrator and send a cease and desist letter. In this case, you may need to file a John Doe lawsuit to unmask the perpetrator.
Using a Cease and Desist to Stop the Unlawful Use of a Trademark, Copyright, or Other Intellectual Property
At Minc Law, we commonly help trademark or copyright owners send cease and desist letters to individuals who are using their intellectual property unlawfully.
A cease and desist letter notifies the recipient that they are infringing on your rights by using that material without authorization. You may simply wish to demand that the infringing party stop using that material, or you may also ask for monetary damages. Be advised that, in order to recover damages for copyright infringement, you typically need to federally register the copyrighted work.
How Should You Determine if You Need to Use a Cease & Desist Letter?
A lawsuit is not always the right solution for online defamation, extortion, or harassment. Sometimes, sending a cease and desist letter is much faster and more cost-effective. If you know the identity of the individual, it may be a good idea to start with a cease and desist letter.
In some cases, however, it may be wisest to file a lawsuit right away. For example, if you have reason to believe sending the letter would escalate an already-delicate situation, you may want to go directly to filing a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief against the perpetrator instead.
For further reading, make sure to see our comprehensive guide explaining how much a defamation lawsuit costs.
What Are the Benefits of Sending a Cease & Desist Letter?
Cease and desist letters come with advantages and drawbacks. In this section, we provide information on the pros and cons of this course of action.
What Are the Advantages of Sending a Cease & Desist Letter?
Although it does not have any legal consequences attached to it, a cease and desist letter serves as a serious warning to the perpetrator that you may take legal action if they do not stop their behavior. It can be effective as the first line of offense. If the perpetrator takes the letter seriously and stops their harmful or unlawful behavior, a cease and desist letter can be a much faster and more affordable alternative to litigation.
Lawsuits can go on for months or even years, and their outcome is always uncertain. A cease and desist letter can not only save you a great deal of time and money, but it can also save you the emotional distress of a lengthy lawsuit.
Another reason to send a cease and desist letter is that it may be easier to accomplish your desired outcome when you do not have a strong legal claim against the perpetrator. Perhaps your defamation claim is weak and is not likely to survive in front of a court. In that case, the chances of resolving the matter may be higher when dealing directly with the perpetrator.
On the other hand, a cease and desist letter can also establish the groundwork for a defamation lawsuit. It formally puts the recipient on notice that their statements are false and defamatory, minimizing their ability to plead ignorance. Further, if they do respond to your cease and desist letter with a counterargument, their response can help you prepare to counter their arguments in court.
If the defamer ignores your letter, you may be able to show that behavior as proof of actual malice or reckless disregard (an important requirement for proving defamation). In a defamation lawsuit, you must prove not only that the statement was false and harmful to your reputation, but that the speaker was either malicious or negligent when they made the statement.
Showing that they received but ignored your cease and desist letter can prevent the defendant from claiming that they were simply ignorant of doing anything wrong.
What Are the Risks & Potential Consequences of Sending a Cease & Desist Letter?
While there are many reasons to send a cease and desist letter, it is important to understand and be prepared for the potential drawbacks. For instance, a cease and desist letter can draw more unwanted attention to the defamatory statement(s) and prolong a situation that would be likely to die down on its own. This phenomenon is called the Streisand Effect.
The perpetrator might choose to post screenshots or share the cease and desist letter as a badge of honor. This type of response might draw even more attention to their defamatory statements—and it even risks going viral.
Once content goes viral, it can be almost impossible to undo the damage. Instead of needing to remove content from one or two websites, you may be faced with the impossible task of tracking down every place the controversy is shared. And the more public the situation, the more risk you face of others piling on with further defamatory attacks. This can turn into a game of whack-a-mole very quickly, with content popping up faster than it can be taken down.
Finally, sending a cease and desist letter could risk the perpetrator deleting their content before you have had a chance to preserve evidence of the defamatory attack. If you do decide to pursue litigation, you will need proof of the incident—which is why it is important to preserve as much evidence as possible before taking any action.
Components of a Cease & Desist Letter For Defamation
In this section, we explain what information and evidence should—and should not—be included in an effective cease and desist letter.
What Information is Required in a Defamation Cease & Desist Letter?
Your cease and desist letter should begin with an introduction that concisely lays out the letter’s purpose.
Identification & Contact Information of Both Parties
Identify yourself, why you are writing the letter, and on what legal grounds you are basing your demands. These legal grounds might include defamation, harassment, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Make sure to clearly state the name and contact information of the person or business being asked to stop their behavior, as well.
Facts of the Unlawful Activity & Description of the Statement’s Falsity
Next, clearly describe the unlawful or defamatory behavior that you wish them to stop. Include the specific statement(s), action(s), date(s), and location(s).
Be sure to explain why the statement(s) are false; after all, if a statement is not false, it cannot be defamation.
The Harm Suffered
Then, explain the damages you or your business suffered as a result of the defamation. If the defamation case goes to court, the damages awarded to you will depend heavily on the facts of the matter. These damages can be difficult to calculate, which is why it is helpful to consult with an expert to establish an accurate monetary amount.
Warning of Legal Action & Deadline to Comply
Finally, lay out your demand clearly, along with the legal consequences of failing to comply with the cease and desist letter.
Providing a deadline for the recipient to comply with your demands may depend on the situation and there is no established number of days that you must give. A good deadline reflects the urgency of the situation but affords the offending party a short period of time to consider the request and consult counsel if needed and take the actions being requested.
What Evidence of Defamation Should Be Included in a Cease & Desist Letter?
An effective cease and desist letter should include a concise recitation of the true facts of the case. If possible, include at least two or three of the most outrageous examples of the defamatory statements.
The most straightforward format goes through the defamatory statements and behavior in chronological order. This is particularly effective where a defamer pieces together a number of minor falsehoods in order to create a larger false impression. In other cases, it makes more sense to focus on a few extreme examples scattered over time to show a pattern of egregious conduct.
In any case, it is critical to put the recipient on notice of their specific conduct and to counter their falsehoods with the truth when possible.
What Should You Not Include in a Cease & Desist Letter For Defamation?
First, we recommend not using a template you find online. An effective cease and desist letter must be thoughtfully tailored to your unique situation, so sending a generic template may ultimately do more harm than good.
While it is important to be clear and thorough in a cease and desist letter, you should be careful to avoid including any content that would diminish your case if the recipient republished or shared it publicly. Do not threaten the recipient or use unprofessional language; this behavior can further harm your reputation if the letter’s contents are made public.
Using improper, vague, or inaccurate language in your cease and desist letter may worsen your legal issue and even lead to further online attacks. We do not recommend attempting to draft a cease and desist letter yourself. If you intend to send a cease and desist letter for defamation, you should enlist the help of an experienced professional.
Why Should You Include Potential Consequences For Failure to Comply in Your Cease and Desist?
Generally, including the potential consequences of not complying with the letter shows your intentions and establishes the stakes. If the recipient knows that you intend to take legal action if they do not stop their behavior, they can decide whether or not to de-escalate the situation.
Also, putting the recipient on notice of the defamation means that if the case goes to court, they cannot claim the defamation was done unknowingly.
And in some states, if a plaintiff wants to receive general damages in a lawsuit, they are required first to send a cease and desist letter listing the potential consequences of failing to comply.
How a Cease & Desist Letter Should Be Delivered
Of course, a defamation cease and desist letter only does its job if the defamer receives it. So once the letter is finalized, you will need to ensure that it is formally received.
How Can You Determine Where to Send a Cease & Desist to Stop Defamation?
You nearly always need a reasonable understanding of the defamer’s identity before sending a cease and desist letter. Taking your best guess and sending the letter to the wrong person can do your case more harm than good.
At Minc Law, we ordinarily recommend that you send cease and desist letters via certified mail with return receipt to prove they were received. But the main goal is to ensure the letter is read. If you only know the defamer’s email address or Facebook account, then sending a cease and desist via those platforms may be a viable option.
What Are the Benefits of Sending a Cease & Desist Through a Courier & Certified Mail?
If you eventually bring your claim to court, it is extremely helpful to be able to show that the defamer received (and then chose to ignore) your cease and desist letter.
The recipient’s signature is requested upon delivery when a letter is sent by certified mail. Once the letter is delivered, the post office provides you with a copy of the recipient’s signature for your records.
Why Should You Work With an Experienced Defamation Attorney to Send a Cease and Desist Letter?
Because a cease and desist letter is much simpler than a legal complaint, it can be tempting to try drafting one on your own. However, it is always best to have the help and guidance of an experienced defamation attorney. Defamers often disregard or fail to take seriously demands made by their victims directly. Contact from a lawyer lets them know that a professional has reviewed the merits of your claims and lends credibility to threats of legal action.
An effective cease and desist letter clearly explains the defamatory behavior, your legal claims against the potential defendant, and your intention to take further legal action if the behavior does not stop. The letter must be accurate, concise, and firm—all while being diplomatic. A defamation lawyer can help you navigate the fine line between defending your reputation and drawing too much unwanted attention to the matter.
An experienced attorney can also help you devise a comprehensive response strategy. They can advise you on your legal options and how difficult it will be to prove your legal claim in court. They can also help document evidence in support of your claim, determine monetary damages, and increase your chances of success if you decide to file a defamation lawsuit.
How Minc Law Can Help You With Defamation
Finding defamatory comments, reviews, or content about you or your business online may be overwhelming and you may be unsure of how to proceed next. Cease and desist letters are often effective first steps that targets of defamation may take to put the offender on notice of their lawful behavior. However, drafting a cease and desist on your own may make your matter worse.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience crafting cease and desist letters that clearly lay out a victim’s legal claims while mitigating the potential of unwanted attention. In cases where unwanted attention has been drawn to a sensitive matter, we can help collect and preserve evidence to support your defamation claim and advise the most appropriate steps going forward.
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November 3, 2022
If you would like to explore your legal options by getting started with your initial, no-obligation defamation consultation, reach out to us by calling us at (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.