NOW, BACK TO Google. Normally, libraries enter into electronic licenses with publishers so they can offer those books electronically. License fees are typically shared with authors fifty-fifty. Why couldn’t Google pay on a per-usage basis?

That’s exactly what might happen — that, or another negotiated settlement that’s rooted­ in the marketplace, says Ed Dailey, an intellectual-property lawyer who wrote an article on the subject for the National Law Journal. As he and his coauthor analyzed decades of copyright cases, they realized that courts have never set absolute guidelines that apply to all copyrighted works in all situations; that kind of black-and-white judgment would only impede technology. Judges have, instead, balanced the author’s (and publisher’s) rights with the public’s right to have access to books, music, movies, and the like. “It seems to me that the publishing companies could end up benefiting from what Google is doing, that it’s a marketplace-allocation dispute rather than a copyright dispute,” Dailey says. “What this says to people in the industry, whether authors or publishers or studios or artists or consumers, is that you want to look at a way to find common ground, so you don’t end up with a zero-sum game. And in fact, it will be worked out.”

Here’s another scenario: You’ve spent years writing books that sell only a few thousand copies each. Your career is in the toilet. So, figuring you have nothing to lose, you pull your out-of-print books off the shelf, digitize them, and post them on the Creative Commons website. First chapter free, the rest for a modest fee.

You might be discovered (or rediscovered) through a Google search. You might sell some books. And if you sell enough, you might get calls from New York publishers eager for your next manuscript.

Career of a midlist author, saved.

It’s possible. Whether it’s probable, only time and the Internet can tell.