Record labels and music industry bodies have been calling for Google to take more action to downgrade sites accused of widespread copyright infringement for some time now. But did they really expect that Google would ever act on those wishes? It has now.

“Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site,” blogs SVP of engineering Amit Singhal.

“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.”

Christmas has come early for rightsholders, in other words. Google has been scrubbing out piracy-related terms like ‘torrent’ from its search auto-suggest feature since December 2010, but this new move goes a big step further.

That auto-suggest filtering has played a role in Google’s move today. “We’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009 — more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings,” writes Singhal.

Google has drawn a new line in the sand, however. It will not be removing pages from its search results altogether unless it receives a “valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner”, and its system of counter-notices for sites who feel they have been wrongly accused also continues.

Still, don’t underestimate the significance of today’s move. Not only is it good news for the legal music services who’ll be bumped up the search rankings, but there are likely to be positive effects for Google’s own ambitions as a music service provider.