Copyright is defined as original expression fixed in any tangible medium (17 U.S.C, 2009, §102(a); Great Britain, 1988, Para.1(1)(a)). In US Law this also extends to derivative work and compilations where originality can be established (2009, §103). Under UK law any adaptation will be counted as an infringement (Great Britain 1988 para.21).
Gowers also recognizes that all creative people are drawing from previous culture and ideas and that the free flow of, and access to, these ideas serves to facilitate creativity (Gowers & Great Britain. 2006 p.12). It is not clear how much of an original work exists in a new work before it is not an adaptation. Currently this is up to the personal taste of the copyright owner and the result of an expensive court case.
Boyle (2008 chap.6) cites a number of examples of culture being the better for artists freely copying work, most notably the assertion that Ray Charles invented soul by stealing substantial elements from other artists in acts that would definitely have infringed copyright. Lessig (2008 pp.68-76) argues that this is a form of cultural shorthand and has greatly increased due to the accessibility to the Internets Read / Write Culture.
As the law currently stands, any use of an existing recording to create a new work constitutes an infringement of copyright. A single drumbeat or an image from a film counts as an infringement of copyright on both the original creative work and the recording, even though it represents a fraction of the original idea. The idea of ‘original expression’ is subjective and needs research to help define it effectively.