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Did MTV Derail "Soul Train"?

Soul Train mastermind, Don Cornelius, has sent a letter to the Justice Department alleging that MTV is violating antitrust laws, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cornelius is accusing the music network of pressuring performers who appear on MTV shows not to perform on rival shows for a 30-day period. For example, Cornelius says, MTV won’t let artists booked on next month’s Video Music Awards to appear on his upcoming Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards.

The veteran music-TV exec’s Lady of Soul show tapes next Tuesday and begins airing in syndication on Saturday. MTV’s Video Music Awards are September 6.

Cornelius’ letter reportedly calls MTV’s booking policies “flagrantly anti-competitive”-if an artist flouts their rules the video cable channel can in effect not play “for any period MTV should prescribe” the performer’s videos on “either MTV, VH1 or BET, all of which are wholly owned Viacom properties.”

The Cornelius-MTV showdown centers on hot young R&B singer Alicia Keys, whose chart-topping debut album, Songs in A Minor, has sold more than 1.6 million copies. The Soul Train guru wanted the singer for his Lady of Soul Awards, but because the singer was booked for the VMAs, MTV played hardball and refused to let her double dip.

However, the music channel seems to be backing down. Following a Times story about the booking squabble last week and subseqent pressure from the singer’s label, J Records, MTV announced Thursday that it was making an exception to its rule: Keys will be able to perform on Cornelius’ Soul because, an MTV spokeswoman tells the Times, “We want as many people as possible to enjoy her music.”

But don’t expect the brouhaha to die down anytime soon. The spokeswoman tells the paper that “exclusivity is standard practice within the print and broadcast media industry and to think otherwise would be naive.” She also said that video airplay on MTV and other channels owned by Viacom was not tied into an artist’s agreement to appear on the awards show.

Dick Clark’s American Music Awards and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Grammys have often squabbled over exclusive booking practices. Cornelius states he does not practice them. A similar booking battle exists among TV talk shows.

No immediate word on whether government regulators will take up Cornelius’ case. But it wouldn’t be the first time MTV and Viacom have faced federal investigators. The entertainment behemoth is facing an ongoing probe into whether it uses its power to engage in antitrust practices with record companies-among the charges, Viacom’s video channels demand a window of exclusivity for certain video clips.

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