SAN FRANCISCO – Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) is expanding its online music section to include the lyrics of 400,000 songs, hoping to strike a chord with Web surfers looking for a more reliable alternative to Internet sites that publish the words without the permission of the copyright owners.
The Sunnyvale-based company is touting the free service to be unveiled Tuesday as the Web's largest legally licensed database of lyrics.
"It fills a huge, gaping hole out there," said Ian Rogers, general manager of Yahoo music.
Song lyrics have been available through scores of other Web sites for years, but most of those destinations are technically breaking the law by posting the words without the approval of the publishers and writers that own the rights.
What's more, many of these unauthorized lyric sites rely on contributions from outsiders, a communal approach that increases the chances for inaccuracies.
Yahoo's song lyrics, in contrast, are supposed to be the official versions. Under the licensing agreement, Yahoo will share with copyright holders the revenue from the ads that will be displayed alongside the lyrics.
The database and licensing deals were cobbled together over the past two years by Gracenote, a digital media management specialist. The Emeryville-based company, formerly known as CDDB, is best known for developing technology that automatically recognizes the tracks on compact discs — a feature that is included in Apple Inc.'s widely used iTunes software.
Nearly 100 music publishers are contributing song lyrics, including industry heavyweights BMG Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner/Chappell Music.
Other lyrics sites boast that they have even more songs than Yahoo's database.
But Yahoo believes its lyrics library is destined to become a hit because it won't be bogged down with the pop-up ads and other intrusive "spyware" that clutters many of the sites that share lyrics without permission.
"Those sites generally aren't healthy places for your computer to be," said music analyst Phil Leigh of Inside Digital Media.
Leigh trumpeted Yahoo's lyric database as a "long overdue" breakthrough that will boost the music industry by creating a new revenue stream for artists and song publishers by making it easier for people to identify a tune they might hear on the radio or on the Web.
"I also suspect this might cause the music industry to step up its efforts to take legal action against these unauthorized (lyric) sites with Yahoo cheering them on in the background," Leigh said.
The National Music Publishers Association, a trade group, didn't respond to requests for an interview about Yahoo's database.
Yahoo is hoping its database stimulates even more traffic on its music service, which is already the most popular on the Web. Yahoo music attracted 22 million U.S. visitors last month to rank it ahead of AOL music (17.5 million visitors) and MySpace music (14.8 million visitors), according to comScore Media Metrix.