Proof of provenance

Say Alice produces a bit of intellectual property, let’s call it X. Alice is all for the freedom of information, so publishes X, without charge, electronically (e.g., on her website), asserting her copyright.

Bob comes along and finds X. He is so captivated by the content of which, he is moved to jealousy: He republishes X verbatim, again freely, but instead asserts his own copyright, without any mention of Alice. Let’s call this X’ (i.e., X’ is Bob’s plagiarism of X).

Charlie is interested in the topics discussed in X (and X’) and, during a routine search, she comes across X’. Let’s say Charlie is a "good actor" and performs due diligence and, for whatever reason, fails to uncover X. Charlie is satisfied and cites Bob and X’ in his own published IP, Y.

Y becomes well known and Alice is made aware of it. Through this, she is shocked to discover X’. How can she prove herself to be the rightful copyright holder?

Let’s assume, for the sake of this question, there are no metadata or artefacts (logs, drafts, version control, etc.) associated with the creation of X’, that could be used to corroborate Alice’s story. Moreover, any of the following could also be true:

  • Bob has predated his copyright, relative to Alice.
  • Bob has perfectly fabricated evidence of the creation of X’ by himself.
  • Alice independently verified the publication of X, but the verification service is not all-encompassing (i.e., it can’t guarantee that X’ wasn’t created first, even if X was verified at a particular date).