In a statement, Viacom criticised YouTube's business practices, saying it has "built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others' creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google."
Viacom said YouTube's 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."
Other media companies have also clashed with YouTube over copyrights, but some, including the American broadcasters CBS and NBC/Universal, have reached deals with the video-sharing site to licence their material.
Universal Music Group, a unit of France's Vivendi, had threatened to sue YouTube, saying it was a hub for pirated music videos, but later they also reached a licencing deal with them.
Viacom filed the lawsuit in the US district court for the southern district of New York and is also seeking an injunction prohibiting Google and YouTube from using its clips.