iTunes users may soon gain access to the lyrics of songs they own, following a landmark deal with major music publishers.

Currently, Gracenote provides the album and song information to iTunes users ripping their own CDs. Gracenote has provided this data since the inception of iTunes - it supports the CDDB, which the media software will access when you rip.

In recent months, music publishers have been taking action against websites hosting lyrics without permission. The publishers are attempting to protect sheet music sales, but have been criticised for their actions, which put lyrics beyond the reach of fans in an increasingly digital music age.

Gracenote has now announced that it has signed agreements to license song lyrics from Warner/Chappell Music, the publishing arm of Warner Music Group and EMI Music Publishing, as well as leading independent publisher ABKCO Music. Deals have also been agreed with the Bob Dylan Music Company, Disney Music Publishing, Ice Nine Publishing, and Windswept Holdings.

These latest agreements mean that Gracenote has completed licences with all five major music publishers, and brings the total of participating publishers to more than 80. It also brings the rights to hundreds of thousands of new song lyrics to the Gracenote Lyrics catalogue, which was launched in July 2006.

These licenses pave the way for the first legal mass commercial use of lyrics. This is an important step in enhancing the consumer digital music experience, while protecting the rights of songwriters and music publishers.

The company expects the first publicly available lyrics service to launch in the US in early 2007, enabling digital music retailers to offer legal access to a lyrics catalogue.

"Gracenote is opening the door to the availability of the most comprehensive database of song lyrics ever compiled," said Craig Palmer, CEO of Gracenote.

As part of the scheme, independent publishers and songwriters can register online for Gracenote's publisher program and have their lyrics made available through the Gracenote service.