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An infringement notice is a formal written notice informing someone that a copyright holder believes that the letter's recipient is infringing upon his or her copyright. Anyone can draft an infringement notice, although the notice is often written by a lawyer or prepared with the assistance of a boilerplate letter which can be used to ensure that the notice includes all required information and statements. People sometimes refer to an infringement notice as a cease and desist letter, since it usually includes a request to correct the infringement by ceasing the infringing behavior.
The infringement notice identifies the copyright holder, the work which is being infringed, and the site of the infringement. In a simple example of how an infringement notice could work, if this wiseGEEK article was reprinted on another website without permission, an infringement notice would be sent to the operator of that website noting the infringement and asking that the material be removed.
An infringement notice is not a legal order. If someone receives the notice and the activity described is indeed infringing, they are under an obligation to correct the infringement; in the example above, this might be done by replacing the article with a fair use excerpt and a link to the original, for instance. However, if the recipient believes that the activity is not infringing, she or he should consult a lawyer for advice.
Cease and desist notices or letters are different from cease and desist orders. A cease and desist order is a legal document prepared by a judge which orders someone to stop engaging in a given activity, and it is a legal order; the recipient must comply or risk legal penalties. A cease and desist notice, on the other hand, is a letter sent in the good faith belief that an activity is infringing, with a request that the activity stop. If the recipient does not stop, the sender of the letter may engage in additional legal steps in order to obtain a cease and desist order from a judge.
There are many different types of infringement, and the laws which surround intellectual property can sometimes be confusing or very much open to interpretation. When someone receives an infringement notice, it is advisable to discuss it with an attorney. If the attorney agrees that the material or activity is infringing, the request in the letter should be complied with. If the attorney disagrees, and it is important to keep in mind that many companies issue these letters by the score with the goal of intimidating people, the attorney can provide advice about the next step to take.