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Is m4 autoconf code "like a compiler or linker"?

I have some gplv3 autoconf m4 files in my project.

These files exist solely to tell the compiler how to find the include files and 
what compiler options to use, and tell the linker how to find the libraries, 
and what linker options to use.

None of the code in these m4 files exists at runtime.

I wonder if inclusion of these files in my project forces  me to upgrade to 
gplv3+ from gplv2+, which I would rather not do unless necessary.

Can I say that since this code does not exist at runtime, the use of these m4 
files is like the use of a compiler or linker?

If I used a v3 compiler or linker in my project, that would not force me to 
make my project v3. Since all versions of the GPL allow "use" almost without 

This is really saying that since these files are used at compile/link time my 
ultimate result is not a derived work, even partially of these files.

Also the author has placed a gplv3 special exception that allows "the output 
of autoconf" to be propagated. But by the argument above, perhaps this 
exception is not really necessary.

However, it would be the gplv3 that allows me to redistribute these files.

How does one say in a debian/copyright file that is gplv3+ that allows one to 
distribute the source package, but gplv2+ that allows the binary package to be 

I am thinking about packaging these m4 files under gplv3 separately, so that my 
package would not have to distribute under gplv3.

Paul Elliott                               1(512)837-1096
pelliott@BlackPatchPanel.com               PMB 181, 11900 Metric Blvd Suite J
http://www.free.blackpatchpanel.com/pme/   Austin TX 78758-3117

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