Back in high school, I created a parody of Doctor Who called Dr. Whom, where the TARDIS was called the RETARDIS and looked like an outhouse. A few years later, an indie comic book parody appeared, a crossover between Star Trek The Next Generation and Dr. Whom, where the TARDIS was called the RETARDIS and looked like an outhouse. Beaten to the punch.
When I was first considering self-publishing back in (I think) 1993, one of the comics I cooked up was a superhero parody, Newsman and Paperboy. Paperboy had a newsbag from which he threw an endless supply of rolled-up newspapers as he fought crime. In 2000, some very funny no-budget fillmmakers made a superhero parody called Crusaders Ltd., which featured a character called Paperboy. Paperboy had a newsbag from which he threw an endless supply of rolled-up newspapers as he fought crime. Beaten to the punch.
Astounding coincidences happen all the time. So far, my experiences have been one of mutual appreciation, thanks to everyone involved being a good sport. Hey, they got it out before I did, that's what I get for sitting on the idea for so long. I've already been involved in one project that required a hasty rewrite because of similarities to another release, and seen another that they guy spent months writing, only to discover that his basic idea had already been done on a popular sci-fi series that he had never seen. This isn't to say that rip-offs don't happen (there is speculation that Madagascar was rushed into production when the basic details of Disney's The Wild came out to beat them to the punch, and let's not forget the theories about Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek Deep Space 9). But there are plenty of times when things are wildly coincidental or simply logical conclusions (let's face it, the Dr. Whom parody is actually pretty obvious).
There is a third, though, and it is generalization. In these cases, copyright acts like a submarine patent. "Submarine patents" are patents held by someone but they don't reveal them publicly. Then, they wait until something similar to their patent becomes so widespread it's practically the default (gifs and jpegs, for example), then go around to people and say, "Dis is a stickup." It happens A LOT in the software field, with patents over amazingly stupid shit (M$ has patented double-clicking on a cell phone), then anyone who does something similar gets sued. This kind of opportunism results in people who created something obscure suddenly saying they were ripped off and demanding cash on the barrelhead.
The Estate of Adrian Jacobs has (Paul Allen, trustee) claims that Rowling stole substantial portions of "Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire" from a book Jacobs wrote back in 1987. The book in question is "The Adventures Of Willy The Wizard -- No 1 Livid Land". It is a 36 page booklet (just callin' it as I see it) where the wizard travels by train and there is a wizard contest. The hero has to work out the exact nature of the contest, which he does in a bathroom with help from others, to rescue people held captive by mythical beasts. The trustee is suing Bloomsbury Publishing, the British publisher who originally printed the Harry Potter books, and trying to make Rowling a party to things as well.
How would Rowling have even heard of this obscure book? Well, supposedly, it was submitted to literary agent Christopher Little, who said it didn't have a chance. Unpublished, Adrian Jacobs died penniless in 1997. Little went on to represent J.K. Rowling as her agent.
All I could think of was, "Are you shitting me?"
Goblet Of Fire was published in 2000. It's been nine years, people. I smell someone who just thinks there are enough similarities that they have a shot at a payday. After all, there has yet to be proven one bit of literal copying from Willy The Wizard. And if similarities were enough to sink a project, then shovelware producers Data Design would never have gotten Billy The Wizard In Broomstick Racing into stores (Warner Bros. can fox legit fan websites, but can't stop these guys? That's what you call some good legal disclaiming!).
The world is like a lottery, with people waiting for their ticket to come up and they can get some bucks without actually doing anything but finding a lawyer (hello, SCO! How's that search for a buyer coming along?). Conducting yourself with dignity and honor, doing honest work? Keep dreaming.