"We're working on it." That's what EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli said when asked whether The Beatles would be heading for iTunes - and other online music vendors.

The admission came during today's joint announcement from EMI and Apple that DRM-free tracks from the label will soon be available on the iTunes Music Store. The tracks will cost 99p instead of 79p.

EMI's boss said the label was unsure of the exact date that the Fab Four's back catalogue would become available on iTunes. The deal is complex, since EMI distributes recordings by The Beatles only under licence; Apple Corps , The Beatles' company, is the rights-holder and a long-time opponent to digital downloads.

Apple Corps is notoriously protective of The Beatles ' back catalogue. The music is never licensed for advertising or third-party compilation albums.

Apple Corps and Apple have recently resolved their long-running legal dispute over the Apple name that, after initial resolution in the 1980s, has reignited every time Apple has stepped into music-related territory - latterly with the iPod and iTunes.

Apple Corps was founded in 1968 and is still owned by the original members of the group - Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr - in addition to Yoko Ono and George Harrison's estate.

Steve Jobs was present at today's announcement with EMI, and speculation was rife that the announcement would also include tracks from the Liverpool quartet - but it was not to be.

A statement released by EMI and Apple the record label said: "From today, EMI's retailers will be offered downloads of tracks and albums in the DRM-free audio format of their choice in a variety of bit rates up to CD quality."