Remember sitting around with your parents (or grandparents) asking them questions like, "Grandma, what did you do before TV? Grandpa, what's a Victrola?"

Fast forward maybe 10 years into the future. Your children (or grandchildren) will be asking you questions like, "Daddy, what's an album? Mommy, what was a telephone for? What's a library?"

This week, Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) provided its answer to these and other questions with the announcement of its attempt to rethink the concept of "library." The company will leverage its search engine prowess by scanning thousands of books, enabling users to download the scanned material.

I know what you're thinking -- a lawsuit between yet another renegade Internet company and the media industry. But you may rest assured. Yahoo!'s project is part of a new organization called the Open Content Alliance (OCA).

Basically, under OCA, Yahoo! will only scan books that are part of the public domain -- that is, only those books that have lost their copyright protection (the works of Mark Twain, Henry James, etc.). An added kicker: The OCA will also include books whose authors have signed waivers with respect to their copyright. Some of the content contributors include the University of California, the National Archives in the U.K., and O'Reilly Media.

The project includes other partners, such as Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), which will allow use of its Acrobat software, and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), which will conduct the scanning.

By the end of the year, you will be able to download books from the OCA site, as well as from Yahoo!. There are also plans to index the search results, so other search engines will have access.

In a chain of events probably not altogether surprising, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has introduced its own library project, called Google Print. As Foolish colleague Tim Beyers explained in a recent piece, the goal of Google Print is to scan millions of books -- even ones protected by copyright. The problem: Google did not seek permission from authors. Rather, Google believes that since users can only search parts of a book, it's not violating copyright laws (this is known as "fair use"). Also, Google noted, authors can opt out of the system.

But writers have not taken to Google's approach too kindly. The Authors Guild, which has about 8,000 members, filed a lawsuit last week against Google for copyright infringement. The plaintiffs include former New York Times editorial writer Herbert Mitgang; noted children's author Betty Miles; and Daniel Hoffman, a former Poet Laureate of the United States.

The bottom line here is this: As Google expands into traditional media content -- such as books, audio, and films -- the company will need to be much more mindful of content creators. While Google's experimental approaches work well in creating cutting-edge technologies, it's not unimaginable that they might create ill will within the worldwide creative community.

Google has, so far, been the big winner in Internet search, and it has served the company's ad revenue well. It stands to reason that indexing media content will meaningfully supplement its already veritable search empire (and the associated revenue). But if the company is going to make it happen, Google needs to think more like, well, Yahoo!.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares mentioned in this article.