A few weeks ago this blogger's attention was caught by a piece of Danish litigation before the splendidly-named Maritime and Commercial Court in which a production team and reggae band sued an advertising agency and a mobile broadband provider for copyright infringement involving a very short snippet of work.
[apparently 'hello' in Portuguese: can someone verify this?], and the music was only three notes taken from a whole piece.
The court ruled that, when assessing whether the fragment "Oister Oi" was protected by copyright, the text and music must be evaluated as a whole and had to have an overall level of originality. In the court's opinion, the choice and combination of words, note sequence and rhythm, considered as a whole, were indeed the expression of an individual creative effort. Accordingly the fragment as a whole had the character of a copyright-protected work. Since the defendants had used the fragment twice, the court found Dkr 20,000 to be a reasonable remuneration.
While very short works have been found to be subject to copyright protection and the taking of short extracts has been found to be an infringement, the risk factor involved when embarking on such litigation is inevitably greater where an argument of de minimis or insubstantiality is available to the defendant. One would imagine that this uncertainty would tend to lead to cases being settled more often, but there is no evidence that this is so.
Source: "Short fragments of text and music may be protected by copyright", by Mads Marstrand-Jørgensen (MAQS Law Firm, Copenhagen), written for International Law Office.