Media giant Viacom is suing the video sharing web site YouTube and its owner Google, seeking more than $1 billion in damages for copyright infringement. The owner of MTV says that YouTube has hosted more than 160,000 unauthorised clips from its television networks, which it claims have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

Viacom filed the suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As well as damages, Viacom is seeking an injunction against Google and YouTube using its material.

In a statement, Viacom said that YouTube is a significant for-profit organisation and that its business model “which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws”.

It concluded: “After a great deal of unproductive negotiation, and remedial efforts by ourselves and other copyright holders, YouTube continues in its unlawful business model. Therefore, we must turn to the courts to prevent Google and YouTube from continuing to steal value from artists and to obtain compensation for the significant damage they have caused.”

Google acquired YouTube last November for $1.65 billion. Last month, YouTube said it would remove more than 100,000 clips of Viacom shows.

While a number of other rights holders have negotiated with YouTube, Viacom has failed to find an agreement. It recently signed a deal with the Joost broadband video network to provide programming in a rights managed environment.

“We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube,” Google said in a statement.