Cease and Desist Letters - A formal, assertive example to help artists and makers protect their work.
February 18, 2010
When someone copies your work, what can you do? In the previous post, a sample letter with a polite approach was provided. Many artists feel that a personal appeal to "a fellow artist or maker" is better than being confrontational. If that works, fine, but . . .
If you tried being polite and it hasn't worked or you know an imitator will defy your initial efforts, it is time to get more formal and assertive to protect your rights.
As mentioned in the previous post, it would be wise to step back and take a critical look at the situation. Is this really an imitation or are both of you using very common materials, forms, or techniques. Ask your friends, mentors, and fellow artists for an honest assessment.
Collect "evidence" of infringement (e.g. side by side images of your work and the copycat work). Do a little research on the other artist to investigate the history behind their work and where they have shown work. Use the Internet to search and start asking around. Examine the details as well as the overall design.
Ultimately, whether intentional or coincidentally, if it is infringing on your work, you should take action. To keep this in perspective, remember that the copycat is taking something away from you. They are benefiting from your work and hard-earned reputation.
A sample of a formal Cease and Desist Letter is provided below. Modify it to adjust for your specific situation. Send it to the offending artist or maker first. Hopefully, this will be enough to resolve the issue. However, if you get no reply or a belligerent reply, send copies to the offending artist/maker's gallery or representative and any other place where their work is shown (exhibition, book, magazine, etc.) Your correspondence with these other parties establishes the fact that your work is "prior art" and that you do not condone imitations. Raising awareness is your most practical path to stop the copycat. If you do not take action, people may begin to think that YOU are the copycat.
Sample Cease and Desist Letter
Name of artist
Address of artist, gallery, or exhibition
RE: Cease and Desist Copyright Infringement
I am the owner of and have reserved all rights in the artistic work titled, [name of work] (hereinafter, the "Work"), which was first expressed in material form on [original date of completion].
It has come to my attention that your work titled, [name of work] imitates or is substantially similar to the copyrighted Work. Consequently, any offering for sale, sale, and display of such work constitutes infringement.
It has come to my attention that you have made and offered for sale at [name of gallery or exhibition] works which appear substantially similar or in imitation of the Work, which infringes my trade dress rights in violation of 15 U.S.C. §1114.
Additionally, your use and display of these works may cause or has caused confusion and mistake among purchasers thinking that these are the Work or derivatives of the Work, in violation of 15 U.S.C. §1125.
In light of the above, I must insist that you immediately cease and desist from all further use, making, offering for sale, sale, and display of all artwork that is confusingly similar to the Work, and to cease advertising and promotion of such works. Please notify me in writing that such actions have been taken.
Alternatively, you may request a grant of limited and non-exclusive use rights which would require that you pay a license fee (among other terms), all of which would be the subject of a separate agreement.
If I have not received your response by [date], this matter may be handed over to my attorneys for further action and additional expense for which you could liable.
Name of artist
If readers of ASK Harriete would like to copy this letter for future reference, I am giving you my permission for future use.
Metalgramatic © 1986
from Critic's Choice
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
If you have additional suggestions to improve this sample letter, please don't hesitate to add a comment or contact me directly. My goal is to add a Cease and Desist letter as a topic to the Professional Guidelines. Your help and experience would be greatly appreciated by the entire arts community.
This post was updated on January 13, 2022.