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Saturday, May 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PhotoWorks settles suit over its film processing

Seattle Times technology reporter

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PhotoWorks has agreed to settle a lawsuit with consumers who had accused the company of deceptive practices by saying PhotoWorks film could be developed only by the company.

The lawsuit also complained that the "free" rolls given to customers after an order is processed were actually charged to customers as part of the processing cost.

Six customers filed the class-action suit on March 29 last year in King County Superior Court.

As part of the settlement, Seattle-based PhotoWorks, previously known as Seattle FilmWorks, will give 900,000 free rolls of film to PhotoWorks customers within a year and 300,000 rolls to customers who don't qualify in the first group but who request a roll in the next six months.

Customers who don't get rolls will receive a $1 discount coupon for a film-processing order. PhotoWorks customers can find more information at www.filmsettlement.com or by calling 800-922-2391.

The plaintiffs will be awarded $2,500 each and the plaintiffs' attorneys will receive $320,000 for their services.

According to the complaint, PhotoWorks, which offers direct-mail photo and digital-imaging processing, said its film could be processed only by using "Process SFW-XL" available exclusively at PhotoWorks and "a few other labs who have the equipment to develop" its film.

The complaint argued that the film actually could be developed using the C-41 process, which is widely available at PhotoWorks' competitors.

In documents from the case, the company admitted that most of the film it has distributed since 1996 can be developed using the C-41 process. It has also agreed that it will not claim that its film can be processed only by PhotoWorks and a small number of other labs.

PhotoWorks will also stop claiming that it provides the replacement film at no added charge and it will start offering the option of processing film without purchasing replacement rolls.

The free rolls of film PhotoWorks will distribute as a result of the settlement can be developed using the C-41 process.

The settlement is subject to court approval; a hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Sharon Pian Chan can be reached at 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com.

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