Congress recently updated the Copyright Law to provide exemptions for the use of certain works in distance education courses. The TEACH (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization) Act allows the incorporation of certain kinds of materials into distance-education materials without the permission of the copyright holder. This exemption is fairly narrow, however. An excellent discussion of this act and the types of uses it authorizes can be found at the website of North Carolina State University.
If you would like to use copyrighted work in your distance education course, you should first conduct a "fair use" analysis or determine whether your proposed use fits within the Safe Harbor guidelines. If your proposed use would not be in compliance with those guidelines or Fair Use, you should contact the Fair Use Committee for guidance as to whether the TEACH Act would authorize your proposed use. The TEACH Act does not apply to your use of reserve or other materials in your non-distance learning courses.