There have been many changes in publishing, media, and the modes to access them in recent years. The rights of the author and the publisher in this quickly changing environment is sometimes a matter of conflict for the key players--hence the Hollywood writers strike over internet access and downloads. It is also a matter of confusion for universities and faculty trying to establish electronic reserve readings for students.
In the recent past, faculty felt free to capture online texts from library databases or the web, or even scan items (like book chapters) they wanted students to read and email them to students, or put up links to these "digital" copies for students to access, read, and print. This was considered by many one of those "grey areas" of copyright that fell close enough to "fair use" to be safe and acceptable.
Well, that grey area seems to be becoming less grey.
Articles are starting to appear in the media that indicate that some universities are taking the lead in treating online readings the same way they would paper reading packets. See, for example, this recent news item from Publisher's Weekly:
Three universities, following the earlier lead of Cornell, have signed an agreement with the Association of American Publishers that "affirms that digital materials will be governed by the same copyright principals [sic] used for print materials."
Who knows? Even providing PURLs (stable links) to articles in databases that the Library leases may be becoming problematic. Already, journals like the Harvard Business Review add a note to their PDFs in our Business Source Complete database indicating that their articles are “not intended for use as assigned course material." They add that they are "pleased to grant permission to make this work available through “electronic reserves” or other means of digital access or transmission to students enrolled in a course” as long as you contact them for “rates and authorization.”
The librarians of Sawyer Library are not copyright attorneys, so we cannot give you definitive advice about what is proper and what is not. However, we did want to let faculty know that free and easy distribution of the work of others, without obtaining specific permission to do so, may not be the "fair use" they think it is!