A cease and desist order is a legal document that is issued to a person or organization, ordering them to stop engaging in a particular activity or face legal penalties. Such orders can be used in a number of ways, and their usage is sometimes criticized by people who fear that they can be used as a silencing technique to shut down people who are not familiar with the law.
One example of a cease and desist order is an order issued by a court. The court can issue the order in response to a request from a government, company, or individual, or in response to the outcome of a trial. In a temporary injunction, the court simply directs the subject of the order to temporarily suspend the activity in question, while a permanent injunction indicates that the activity needs to be stopped permanently.
For example, someone who fears that he or she will be libeled in a book can ask a court for a temporary injunction to halt publication until the case can be brought to trial and discussed. If the outcome of a trial is that the book is indeed libelous, the court may issue a permanent cease and desist order, indicating that the book cannot be published.
Individuals and companies can also issue cease and desist orders directly, usually using a lawyer to draft the document so that it will adhere to the law. These documents typically threaten the subject with legal action unless he or she ceases an activity. A company, for instance, might issue such an order to someone who was releasing trade secrets, or an individual might write up a cease and desist letter against someone who is engaging in harassment.
When someone receives a cease and desist order, whether it is from a court or an individual, they should ask a lawyer to review it. The lawyer can study the terms of the order to determine whether or not it is valid. If it is invalid, the lawyer can challenge it, although temporary adherence to the document is usually recommended to show that the target of the order is not being belligerent or uncooperative. Some companies and individuals send cease and desist letters on a regular basis, blanketing anyone who causes perceived offense, and many of these letters actually do not stand up legally, although people may comply with them out of fear.