OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Ofcom has proved its worth with ruling on 118 118

Ofcom's ruling this week on David Bedford's legal case against The Number shows the new regulator acting with the wisdom of Solomon. For readers who are not au fait with Jewish philosophical writing, the point is that Bedford has won the case in principle but lost in practice. The brilliant 118 118 ads remain on air, and will no doubt create an even bigger impact now that the case has been all over the papers.

Bedford is the former international athlete who set a world record for the 10,000 metres at Crystal Palace in 1973. Thirty years on, as the race director of the Flora London Marathon, Bedford happily posed for the image from The Sun that you see on this page.

That photograph ran in March 2003. Six months and some costly legal advice later, Bedford was convinced that The Number had used his image without permission.

Or rather he was convinced that they had used his 30-year-old image without permission.

Ofcom, for its part, said this week that WCRS's campaign does caricature Bedford but not in a way that has caused him financial harm. To ban the campaign, it reasoned, would have been out of all proportion.

Before launching his case, Bedford would have been well advised to have studied the legal precedent of the racing driver Eddie Irvine versus talkSPORT. Back in 2002 the radio station sent a direct mail piece to about 1,000 prospective advertisers. It featured a photo of Irvine holding a portable radio which had the talkSPORT name and logo on it. It fact, Irvine had been holding a mobile phone at the time the photograph was taken, but it had been digitally manipulated. A judge ruled the ad gave the false impression of Irvine endorsing the station but (and here's the message for Bedford who still plans to sue The Number for £250,000) on the question of damages he decided that a paltry £25,000 should be the amount as Irvine did not accept endorsements for less than £25,000 at the time.

In this case, Bedford has not lost money and he will surely struggle to show he has suffered any damage - unless you count people shouting cheerily "I've got your number".

WCRS, for its part, always maintained that its reference was another track star of the 70s, Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident in 1975. Although Prefontaine never won an Olympic medal, he was touted as America's distance running prodigy at the age of 19 and achieved the sort of cult status that propelled him on to the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But, let's be honest, any forensic examination of creative references and sources is impossible in this or any other case.

Various people will have looked at various images until the eureka moment when someone put forward a line or visual idea with the words "What about if we ..."

The case marks a victory, albeit an expensive one, for WCRS and for Brinsley Dresden, its lawyer at Lewis Silkin. It shows Ofcom, encouragingly, applying the rules in a measured and commercial way. As for agencies, it highlights the need to be acutely aware of the risks inherent in the references they use.