For the topic of grace notes in music, see ornament (music).

Gracenote is a commercial enterprise which maintains and licenses a database containing information about the contents of CDs. The database is accessible online over the Internet. As of 2005 many computer software applications that are capable of playing CDs use Gracenote's CDDB or similar services such as All Media Guide's AMG LASSO, or open-source projects such as FreeDB and Musicbrainz. These programs generally offer the option of contributing track listings, and most of the track listings in the Gracenote database are voluntary contributions by individual users of CD-player software.



Gracenote began in 1993 as an open-source project involving a CD player program named xmcd and an associated database named CDDB. xmcd and CDDB were created by Ti Kan and Steve Scherf. Because CDs do not contain any digitally-encoded information about their contents, Kan and Scherf devised a clever technology which identifies and looks up CDs based on TOC information stored at the beginning of each disc. A TOC, or Table of Contents, is a list of offsets corresponding to the start of each track on a CD. The matching is fuzzy and tolerates some variation in track offsets.

Some computer users who have copied vinyl LPs from their turntables onto CD-Rs have been astonished to find their computers correctly displaying the titles and track listings when these CD-R's are played on their computer. This happens when a commercial CD is a remastered version of an LP, containing the same tracks in the same order. If the track offsets of the homemade CD match the track timings of the commercial CD to within a second, the CDDB database can identify the CD successfully.

Commercialization and controversy

In 1998, Kan and Scherf incorporated CDDB into a privately held company with investment from Escient, a high-tech venture firm. CDDB was then renamed Gracenote. The maneuver was and remains controversial, because the CDDB database was and is built on the voluntary submission of CD track data by thousands of individual users, who received no compensation for their work. Initially, most of these were users of the xmcd CD player program. The xmcd program itself was an open-source, GPL project, and many listing contributors assumed that the database was free as well. However, at some point the code for xmcd was modified to append copyright notices to all submissions. How visible or open this was to contributors remains a matter of debate. Rightly or wrongly, many contributors of track listings were angered at the transfer of these listings to a profit-making entity which proceeded to make money by charging license fees for access to a database of track listings which individuals had contributed for free.

As of 2005 Gracenote claims that its database contains information on almost 4 million CDs. The reliability both of this statement and of the database itself have been challenged. Because the information going into the database has not been subjected to quality control, duplicate entries are very common. David Jennings, in an article entitled "How many CDs are there in the world?" gives an example of a six-CD set in which "two of the six CDs appear twice in the database, and one appears three times." An article on the AtomicPop website cites Ty Roberts, chief technology officer of Gracenote, as saying that there are approximately 500,000 individual CD titles commercially released and available for sale today in the United States.


The commercialization of CDDB by Gracenote also caused friction with its former licensees. In 2000, Gracenote sued Roxio for breach of contract when Roxio tried to switch to freedb. The case was settled in 2001.

In 2002, Gracenote sued its former licensee, Musicmatch, for breach of contract and patent violations. Musicmatch filed a counter-suit against Gracenote. The Northern District Court in California ruled on August 26, 2004 in favor of Musicmatch. A summary judgement found that Musicmatch's CDDB replacement service does not violate Gracenote's patents. The court also found significant evidence that Gracenote may have obtained its patents fraudulently. The Court Order ( is available online. The case was settled in 2004 after Musicmatch received summary judgement on all of Gracenote's patent claims. The lawsuit is summarized at the Manatt Phelps Phillips ( website within Mr. Robert D. Becker's list of representative cases.


Many of Gracenote's small former licensees moved to non-commercial services such as freedb because of restrictive terms and anger over the privatization of the company. Several large commercial licensees dropped Gracenote's service, such as Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Musicmatch Jukebox, and have moved to the commercial service provided by All Media Guide.

The AMG LASSO media recognition service was launched in late 2004 by All Media Guide. The service allows for the recognition of DVDs and digital audio files such as MP3s, as well as CD recognition, and directly competes with Gracenote in the software and embedded device markets globally.

Musicbrainz is also another music identification service that is open source and created by community contributions.

External links

  • All Media Guide (AMG) (
  • AMG's LASSO (
  • FreeDB (
  • Gracenote (
  • Musicbrainz (
  • How many CDs are there? ( Reliability of Gracenote database questioned
  • [1] ( Gracenote official estimates 500,000 CD titles currently available for sale in the U. S.

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