Google will be criticised by MPs for making "derisory" attempts to curb music and film piracy and using its "perceived power and influence" at the heart of David Cameron's government to shore up its position.
The Commons culture, media and sport select committee accused the search engine of offering the thinnest of excuses to avoid taking action against widespread piracy, a problem that the committee claimed is costing the creative industries millions of pounds in lost revenue a year.
Tory MP John Whittingdale, the chairman of the committee, said his fellow MPs were "unimpressed by Google's continued failure to stop directing consumers to illegal, copyright infringing material on the flimsy excuse that some of the sites may also host some legal content. The continuing promotion of illegal content through search engines is simply unacceptable, and efforts to stop it have so far been derisory."
In a report, published on Thursday, the MPs also said Google was foremost among internet giants in being able to influence coalition policy-making. MPs said they had received "numerous complaints" from across the creative industries about Google's "perceived power and influence in the government's inner, policy-making sanctum".
The report highlighted a remark by the business minister Lord Younger, who told the MPs in evidence to their committee: "Google is one of several search engines and I am very aware of their power, put it that way. I am also very aware … that they have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No 10, I understand."
Google's links with government have been the focus of scrutiny in the past, with the company's senior vice president of communications, Rachel Whetstone, the partner of Cameron's one-time policy guru Steve Hilton. But the MPs' report itself did not cite any individual Google employees or political advisers.
MPs added that internet pirates convicted of running commercial websites that rip off music, films and video games should face up to a decade in jail, up from the current maximum of two years.
Google insists it does take down copyright-infringing material when it is brought to its attention. But the company has come under increased pressure from creative industry groups for moving too slowly – or sometimes taking no action.
New figures provided to MPs by the UK music body, the BPI, suggest that 61% of the top 10 sites in a sample of Google searches for popular artists, such as Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, are for pirated material, compared to 63% a year ago.
A Google spokesman said: "We removed more than 20 million links to pirated content from our search results in the last month alone. But search is not the problem – according to Ofcom just 8% of infringers in the UK use Google to find unlicensed film and 13% to find unlicensed music. Google works harder than anyone to help the film and music industry protect their content online."
The suggestion to raise the custodial penalty for piracy is not new – it was proposed in a private members bill by Vince Cable long before he became a minister in 2002 – but was reignited last year by the the conviction of Anton Vickerman, a 38-year-old man from Gateshead who was sentenced to four years in prison for running a website that linked to pirated copies of films and TV shows. Vickerman was accused of generating £50,000 a month from the website, but was only handed a four-year jail term after being convicted of conspiracy to defraud instead of under existing copyright law.
Whittingdale said: "Britain's creative industries are of huge importance to our economy and as successful as any in the world. We are blessed in the UK with extraordinary creativity which is backed up by superb training in technical skills and a supportive tax regime. However, all this will be put at risk if creators cannot rely on a strong framework of intellectual property rights which are robustly enforced."
In the report, the MPs said: "If organised crime involving online piracy on a commercial scale is to be tackled and deterred, it is essential that this discrepancy between the online and offline worlds be rectified."
Serious copyright infringers should be targeted with warning letters without further delay, the MPs said. They urged the government to resolve the current impasse over the Digital Economy Act by implementing the Online Copyright Infringement Code, which allows internet providers to send cautions to suspected copyright abusers.
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