There's nothing more frustrating and disconcerting than to be nearing completion of a new script that has an amazing premise, something you feel is totally unique, only to learn that somebody else has already written and sold a similar story.
Your immediate reaction is to assume that somebody stole your idea. Yes, of course, that's a natural assumption. But if you've never met the person and you do some digging and discover that he wrote the script two years before you even got your idea, then you know he didn't steal it.
It's just an example of parallel thinking.
Two (or 5, 10 or 1,000) people have the same idea.
Stand up comics go through this all the time when it comes to jokes. A stand up in New York reads something in The NY Post about a talking parrot who recites Shakespeare. Another stand up working in Atlanta reads the same story. Five other comics in Los Angeles also read the same story. And every one of these comedians write a joke about a parrot who recites Shakespeare. They try out the joke that night and it gets huge laughs. Over the next few weeks they each use the joke and sooner or later one of them will hear from a friend that so-and-so comedian is using his talking parrot joke.
Of course, nobody stole anything from anybody because parallel thinking took over.
This is a fairly common occurrence, especially when it comes to either high concept ideas or ideas taken from the headlines. Last week the movie "30 Minutes Or Less" opened. It's about a pizza delivery man who has had a bomb rigged to his body by a couple of bad guys. If he doesn't successfully rob a bank the bomb will go off and he'll be killed. This is a comedy. However, a few years ago there was a real life story about a pizza delivery man who had a bomb rigged to his body and, well, this wasn't a comedy. The bomb blew up and the guy died.
Sounds to me like the authors of the movie got their idea from this actual incident. In an article I read they claim that they'd never heard of it. OK. That's what they say and maybe they didn't. But it was a story that made national headlines. Is it fair to say that other screenwriters were inspired to write a script based on the real incident? I think it's fair.
I know a bunch of writers, myself included, who wrote a script only to find that something just like it is in production or development or has been sold which, of course, kills any screenplays like it.
That's just the way it works.
Don't automatically assume that someone has stolen your idea.
Is there any way around this? Not really, other than to make sure you don't spend an inordinate amount of time writing scripts. If you took 3 years to write something and then found out it's dead in the water, it'll be a lot more painful than if you spent 3 months on the project.
So, write fast! Or at least faster!