The London High Court will tomorrow start its judicial review of the copyright provisions of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) called for by BT and TalkTalk, the UK's largest internet service providers.
The controversial act was passed in "wash-up" haggling over legislation at the end of the previous parliament. After more than 300 amendments in the Lords, critics say it is still unworkable in practice.
The claimants are asking the court to review the DEA's legitimacy with respect to procedure, fairness and ISPs' function as a "mere conduit" of internet traffic.
The act incorporates several clauses asked for by former business secretary Peter Mandelson after he met Hollywood mogul David Geffen. This introduced criminal penalties for online copyright infringement. These were later amended to three strikes and out for persistent copyright pirates.
It also introduced the potential for rightholders to insist that ISPs introduce technical measures such as reducing bandwidth available to alleged copyright pirates. Moreover, this was to be an administrative process that would put the burden of going to court to restore their internet access on the alleged pirates.
Critics say the act as it stands will not deter hardcore pirates who can use encryption and onion routing to hide their activity, but that it will hurt the unaware and the technologically inept.
The government consulted last year on the cost-sharing elements of the so-called initial obligations contained in the DEA, but has yet to give its response.
It is also ratifying the multilateral anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (Acta), which seeks to get governments to impose penalties similar to those in the DEA.