What Is A ‘Cease and Desist’ Letter?

A ‘Cease and Desist’ letter, like it sounds, is a legal letter demanding you to stop an activity now, and in the future. In the voice over world, cease and desist letters usually are received by talents for their improper uses of a trademarked name, or copyrighted material.

I have actually been seeing more and more of these letters in recent days as corporations are attempting to more aggressively protect their intellectual property rights in the Internet age.

Here are two specific recent case examples I was involved in:

voiceover_legal21) A voice talent was using the same company name as a production company in a different state. Because the production company had registered the name in the Federal Trademark Office, the talent was infringing the trademark rights of the production company and was forced to change his company name.

A second example was where a voice over talent was using the logos of their clients on their website by copying those logos from the client’s website and posting it on their own to show that they had done a job for that client. This particular client was a large corporate entity, like many of those us voice talents work for. But this client was not happy that the talent was using the logo on the site without their permission, so the corporation wanted the logo removed. The talent complied with this request.

I have heard many talents out there say things along the lines of pleading ‘ignorance’ in this situation as the way to handle it. Their thought process is “if you don’t ask for permission, the client can’t say no, so why not use it and see if the client complains, and if they do, they will just stop the unlawful conduct.”

Imagine if we all LIVED that way? What kind of society would we have? In this case, ignorance is NO DEFENSE under the law, so these talents are setting themselves up for a huge fall should these corporations choose to sue them. Since ignorance of the law is never a valid defense anywhere in the United States, if a talent says they “did not know” they were breaking the law in response to a lawsuit, that would amount to an automatic loss in Court.

And just because you COMPLY with a demand in a cease and desist letter, it does not mean the case is over. Corporations send cease and desist letters because it is generally required prior to starting a lawsuit for breach of intellectual property rights. Savvy counsel send these letters out to get an admission of wrongdoing by the infringing party, then they sue and ask for statutory punitive damages for willful infringement, which could amount up to $150,000.00. What better proof of willful infringement than removing that logo from your website, or changing your corporate name after receiving a cease and desist letter?

A savvy defense counsel for the voice talent will ask for a general release stating that the talent “admits no wrongdoing” but will stop the offensive conduct to “avoid further litigation.”

Bottom line, you should always seek the advice of qualified counsel when responding to a cease and desist letter, and you should ALWAYS ask your client’s permission before using their intellectual property to avoid the issue in the first place. I don’t think many voice talents would use a client’s car without their permission, and intellectual property is just as much property as the car is, so why use that without permission?

About Rob Sciglimpaglia

As both a voice talent and an attorney, Rob Sciglimpaglia is uniquely qualified to answer your legal questions related to the voiceover industry. If you would like to ask Rob Sciglimpaglia a legal question about voiceover, please email him directly at the e-mail below.

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