Flat Earth: Two tunes but only one Piano

THERE was a settlement before the issue went to court, but in 1991 two rival film companies were making what appeared to be the same movie. One was tentatively called The River. The other was tentatively called The Piano. Last week The Piano was nominated for eight academy awards; one of them for best original screenplay by its director Jane Campion.

The River was based on a 1938 novel, The Story of a New Zealand River, by Jane Mander. The plot involved a widow arriving in New Zealand in the 19th century with her piano and her daughter. The widow later becomes embroiled in a love triangle with her new husband and another settler. The piano is the vehicle she uses to express her emotions.

The makers of The River owned the film rights to Mander's book but Campion's team got a head start, and after some argy-bargy The River people withdrew 'because a lengthy court battle would benefit no one', according to documents held by the New Zealand Film Commission.

Ms Campion, a New Zealander, rejects any suggestion of plagiarism and says that her inspiration came from many different sources. It's that egalitarian thing about New Zealanders, she declares. 'You know, if someone's done well they must have cheated.'

Sounds rather like our reaction to the last All Blacks tour.