I find myself in an awkward situation. Nearly two years ago I submitted a paper to a reputable mathematics journal. After 15 months it was rejected with the rationale that there had been papers published (most since the submission date) that contained results that I should have referenced. I found that a little spurious, but moved on and put my work together with some colleagues and got our new paper accepted (pending some language issues) by a different journal.
However, one of my co-authors has found that my exact result (barring some small notational changes, but with the exact same language; I can recognise it as mine, I slaved over finding just the right words!) from my original paper has had the proof published in a book by one author of the references that caused the paper to get originally rejected!
My assumption is thus that the paper was sent to this person to referee and they liked the result so much that they kept it for themselves, which also explains the delay in refereeing... I believe that this author has also presented this result at a conference as their own work. They have a number of papers published on the topic in question from their doctoral thesis.
My question is what steps can I take now to re-assert my authorship?
I believe that it would have been simpler if I had also submitted it to the arXiv, but I wasn't sure (at that time) how that would be seen by the journal. I did give a presentation of my results at a local conference, so I would be able to produce credible witnesses to back up my claim, if necessary. The book published containing my work is largely the doctoral thesis of the author, so I am attempting to find a copy of the thesis since it was deposited before I submitted my paper to the journal. Can anyone suggest any other recourse?
My co-authors would prefer to err on the side of caution and include a reference to the result in our revised paper, but I would really like to reclaim my work...
This is just a layman's perspective, but here's what you can do:
1) Keep copies of all official correspondence. 2) If you have not touched the file at all, take a screenshot of the file explorer displaying the file name and the "last modified" date. 3) Get a signed statement attesting to your character and to the fact that you spent long hours putting your essay together.
The key is to gather enough evidence to conclude that the editor probably plagiarized. If you were to sue the author, all you'd to do is prove that there is a > 50% chance that the guy plagiarized your work.