It has emerged this week that image-sharing site Pinterest, a Silicon Valley start-up, has hired an ex-Google lawyer to head its legal department and oversee copyright issues after pressure from image owners, including Getty Images, to either pay for or delete pictures ‘pinned’ there.

The site’s users create “pinboards” of images that have inspired them, and often the images are grabbed from the various web sites users land on during their Internet travels without regard for legal ownership.

In fact, earlier this year an American lawyer deleted all her pictures on the site when, reading the small print, she realised that Pinterest members are solely responsible for what they pin and repin.

Pinterest has tweaked its terms and policies to address such concerns and the start-up has always been regarded as well protected from lawsuits because of its policies and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

However, by the end of 2011 Pinterest had become one of the top 10 social media sites and was attracting more than 17 million unique visits and was valued at $1.5bn at the end of March, which means that more legal weight is required.

Pinterest is said to have hired former Google general counsel Michael Yang for this task, as he is experienced in handling privacy issues and in 2008 handled controversy over a section in the terms of service of Google’s Chrome browser.

Harjinder Obhi, director of litigation for Google EMEA, said of Yang’s move: “He’s moving on to a top role at an exciting business, and we wish him luck. He’s not the first – our alumni run Twitter’s legal department too.”

The current advice to users of the site in how not to be sued is to own the copyright of any images put up or at least get the permission of the copyright holder.