The copyright act provides copyright protection in “musical works, including any accompanying words” that are fixed in some tangible medium of expression. Musical works can refer to original compositions and original arrangements or new versions of older compositions.

A musical composition and a sound recording are separate works according to copyright law. Registering a musical composition covers the music and lyrics, but the song, and a recording of an artist singing that song are distinct works. In most cases, a musical composition and a sound recording of that composition will need to be registered separately with the Copyright Office. For more information, see Circular 50: Musical Compositions.

The Copyright office distinguishes between musical compositions, and the actual sound recording of the composition. An example provided in Circular 56 is the song “Rolling in the Deep” authored by Adele and Paul Epworth, and a recording of Aretha Franklin singing “Rolling in the Deep”. The underlying music and lyrics are a ‘musical composition’, whereas the audio of an artist performing the song is a ‘sound recording’.

A sound recording can also be an audio recording of someone reading a book, a podcast, and even natural sounds providing the recording contains a sufficient amount of production authorship.

The Copyright Act does not include motion picture soundtracks or sound recordings for other audiovisual works as “sound recordings”.

A phonorecord is the physical object that contains a sound recording. A digital audio file on a usb stick, a compact disc, and LP are all phonorecords.

Derivative sound recordings use preexisting sounds- such as those that were previously registered or published, but have been rearranged, remixed, or otherwise altered in sequence or character. One example would be a mashup. There is another type of derivative- close to sampling, but rather than playing the existing recorded version of a famous guitar riff, you play the riff yourself. This is known as a replay. This type of derivative would infringe on the composition copyright, but not the sound recording copyright, so permission will need to be sought only from the owner of the composition rights.

Yes. Sampling infringes copyrights on two counts: the sound recording and the composition. If you want to sample copyrighted music, you will need to contact the owner, which in the case of many well known songs, would mean both the author of the song, and the label it was recorded under.