50

I'm a software developer, with over 10 years of experience in data munching.

During those strange times of isolation at home, I found unable to work as I usually do at my regular workplace. This created the situation where I now found myself with loads of free time, and thus I decided to pick up some freelance work to complement my income while it is possible to do so.

I recently finished a new feature for one of my clients, and went to deploy it on production. Things went smoothly, the software worked fine, the client was satisfied. Training was scheduled for the next day.

Comes the training, and we open up the video conference. I present the training, solve any doubts that pop up, and all is good.

Except that, later that day, I got an e-mail saying that my payment wouldn't be given because of my "satanist tendencies", and this client wouldn't be doing business with me anymore. I pressed a contact I have over the client's business, and it seems that the artwork present on my office was deeply offensive to some people, which generated complaints.

Thing is, said artwork on my office is from fantasy themes - elves, mermaids, dragons, and so on. Every piece is, at least to me, "SFW", and there isn't anything that could be remotely considered nudity (unless the exposed upper back of a mermaid somehow counts as nudity). The most "outrageous" piece of artwork there is a rather large oil painting showing a 20-sided die being cradled by a fairy-like woman.

For context, the space I use as my office was originally a room I set aside for hosting RPG nights, and the decoration is the result of artwork produced by my players or myself over the years. It is currently the quietest, most comfortable place in my home, and thus it seemed like a natural pick for working for extended periods of time. The idea that the decoration could be an issue with someone never crossed my mind.

I'm well aware that the client has no right to dock my pay based on that. I'll try to talk things out and, failing that, I'll take legal action. That's not my concern right now.

What I'm curious about is the idea that someone could get offended by generic fantasy imagery. I'm not talking about big tittied, titillating elves or lustful dragons sharing smooches with cat girls - Just regular, generic, "fantasy" imagery - I'm talking about the type of thing that shows up when you type "Fantasy Artwork" on Google Images with SafeSearch on.

So, to the question:

Is generic, non-adult fantasy imagery NSFW for the generic workplace?


Some additional relevant info:

  • I live and work on Brazil. I tend to clients all over the world when doing freelance stuff - this specific client is based in NY, USA.

  • This wasn't the first job I did for them. Other feature releases got me flying over to their place to give training. For obvious reasons, this wasn't possible this time.

  • This client sells Health Insurance. They got their system from me a couple years back. I trained their IT team to give maintenance on the software and add new features themselves, if they need, but every now and them they ask me to do a new feature myself if it is particularly troublesome for their team for some reason. I'm not aware of the reason they called me for this feature.

  • I never had a problem with this type of thing before. On my regular (non-freelance) workplace, the CEO actively incentives us to decorate our offices with whatever we like. Her very own office is lined with books, artwork, and figurines from sci-fi themes, mostly Warhammer 40k. I'm aware that small IT companies aren't a parameter for anything, however.


Update:

After some legal movements, I was able to get my money from the client. Seems like they weren't only bailing the pay on me, but on other contractors too.

On another note, I moved my workstation to another place of my home, where there is just a shelf with books behind me. I wasn't able to find a place with a "blank wall", so this will have to do for now.

For everyone that chipped in - you have my tanks!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 8 at 12:01
  • Technical Hint for next time: SKYPE and MS Teams allow you to replace the background with an image. Use it if you have ANYTHING in the background that is not just generic props. Even books with titles may offend some. Yes, those some may be unreasonable and the fact that they are allowed to vote may be creeping, but they still are the clients you deal with. Background replacement. Always. – TomTom Aug 23 at 15:47
103

First, your client is trying to stiff you for your work. Hopefully you have a good scope of work agreement, signed by them. You need to involve an attorney right away.

The whole "D&D is satanic" trope went out with popped collars in the '90's, and it doesn't hold water for a moment.

Your client is just trying to stiff you. Treat them as you would any deadbeat.

I also hope you withheld final code delivery until you received payment.

| improve this answer | |
  • 48
    I agree that the client is trying to stiff the OP. The fact that the Harry Potter books became the "most banned book in America" and were banned by a school in Nashville as recently as 2019, however, suggests that satanic tropes are still alive and well. – Laconic Droid Jul 7 at 16:34
  • 1
    Indeed, and OP specifically said that he is nto asking about the payment. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 7 at 16:44
  • 3
    D&D, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and all that ilk, it's all a very distinct "look" that many people just don't understand. I once sported a Douglas Adams "Don't Panic" graphic with a green smiley face and discovered, embarrassingly, that it's not cool if you don't get it-- and there's A LOT of people that won't get it. The OP learned a hard lesson here. – teego1967 Jul 7 at 18:29
  • 5
    You can't equate fantasy to "Satanic tendancies". CS Lewis wrote Narnia, and he was also a famous Christian author. – Nelson Jul 8 at 1:24
  • 5
    @Nelson The Abrahamic religions invented Satan. And don't forget that some religious sects accuse others of idolatry over images which are much more innocuous than typical fantasy graphics. – alephzero Jul 8 at 2:51
41

As you've asked specifically to ignore the payment issue, I'll do just that and focus on the meat of your question:

Is generic, non-adult fantasy imagery NSFW for the generic workplace?

It can be.

What is safe for work for one person may be not so for another depending on their culture, upbringing, religion and so on, it's a highly subjective matter, but what I know that having an art-rich meeting background is almost never to benefit you while it certainly can harm you.

By similar fashion my office, among many things, includes military replicas, including replica firearms, uniforms, tactical kit. There is nothing NSFW about those images on their own, and yet I do not use that office as background for calls with clients simple because it may make some of them uncomfortable, even though most of them will probably not be bothered by it at all (again, it's cultural).

Same logic follows for the fairies (which I imagine are at least a bit scantily clad, can't find other fairy pictures after quick google), which is probably fine for you and won't bother most people, but some will be offended. Which leads us to the unasked question:

What should I do with my not most professionally looking office.

There are many solution, one of them is to simply take the meetings in another room. Another one would be to take the meetings with your webcam off while in the office. Yet another one is to use one of the video editing tools that allow you to dynamically replace webcam background with something generic. This can also be achieved manually by pointing your webcam at empty side of the wall and sitting in front of it.

But of course you can also decide to do nothing about it, and accept that this may cause you some problems in the future. Or because you think that this brings you more good than bad (although I would keep in mind that most people who may be uncomfortable with it may not say so, instead quietly move on with someone else, so this can be hard to gauge). Either way it's yours decision to make, but the safest option is to hold your meetings in a bland and boring environment, unless you know the client well and that they will be receptive to your possibly risky backgrounds.

| improve this answer | |
  • 8
    They could also use a folding screen when on calls. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folding_screen – jennyfofenny Jul 8 at 1:31
  • 100% agree that different things are inappropriate for different people - I'd probably be made mildly uncomfortable by the room you describe, not to the degree of the OP's issue of course but still, definitely stay away from things that aren't entirely 100% safe. – Joe Jul 8 at 2:48
  • 3
    Zoom has background-replacement built in that seems to work reasonably well. – reirab Jul 8 at 3:33
27

The world is full of volatile people

Given that this person saw no devil horns and no angels being burned (I assume), they basically just skimmed what they saw on your wall, made an assumption, and it started a chain reaction in their mind that lead to this.

To not provoke some kind of outrage somewhere, you need to be a very generic person.

The world is also full of scammers

This could just be an excuse to not pay you.

| improve this answer | |
  • In light of the OP's update, this seems the most likely answer by far. The client was never going to pay; they just picked a justification for non-payment that they thought might have a non-zero chance of working. – Alex M Aug 22 at 0:58
11

In general no. Most people (at least in my experience) wouldn't consider such imagery inappropriate or NSFW unless it was overtly violent, sexual or contained obvious depictions of things such as drug use. However these things are highly subjective and what is and is not offensive can vary greatly from person to person based on a near infinite number of reasons.

If this is a one off incident I would just chalk it up to an unreasonable (and possibly very shady) client and move on. However if a sizable percentage of your clients are the type of people who might be deeply offended by such images for religious, cultural, etc reasons then I would consider altering your workspace so that such clients don't see those images.

| improve this answer | |
10
  1. Serve the client legal notice to pay you. Involve an attorney if you have to. But you said you're not concerned with that.

  2. The problem is, for anything that exists, there exists a person who is offended by it. You happen to have found the person who is offended by fantasy imagery. There are general standards of what is/is not SFW, things like nudity, sexuality, swearing, depictions of violence, and so on. Without seeing the images for myself it's hard to say if your images contain any of that material, but on your word I'll agree they don't. Failing that, you seem to have just found "that guy"; sue them for payment for your work and be done with them.

| improve this answer | |
4

Focus on getting your payment for your work. You will gain nothing from trying to figure out the thought process of your client.

For all you know the '6' on the die with the fairy was next to '6' freckles on mermaids upper back, and there were '6' paintings total, which made '666'.

| improve this answer | |
  • This doesn't really answe ops question, he specificlally said that he is not asking about the payment. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 7 at 16:35
3

Sorry this happened to you.

Is generic, non-adult fantasy imagery NSFW for the generic workplace?

I don't think so but then I've worked at mainstream advertising companies where the materials being advertised were more explicit than what you described.

Now you didn't ask but: I have 10+ years experience doing consulting. When you do work without payment you are extending credit. For super tiny projects that only take you a few minutes it might be okay to do that but for larger projects the risk just isn't worth it. If a client is unwilling to do a downpayment on mid size or larger projects then they're going to waste your time anyhow. They're either scamming or don't trust you and are unreliable clients/partners in my experience. And trust in this context means they can't trust because they aren't qualified to judge your experience.

| improve this answer | |
-2

I assume you won't be getting your money from the client, so you might as well have some fun.

You created a new feature for the client, and the client refuses to pay. Without payment, you are the copyright holder of all the work you did. Have a look what the penalties for intentional commercial copyright infringement is in your country (for example, in the USA $30,000 without any proof of actual damages would be quite reasonable).

So ask a nice lawyer to write them a letter that they have no copyright to any of your work, that they have no license whatsoever to use your work, that you ask them to destroy any copies of your work that they have and send you evidence, and that if they are caught using your software, your lawyer will be only too happy to sue them for the maximum amount possible.

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .