After months of wrangling, it all finally comes to an end today as the major Wall Street brokerage firms are agreeing to pay some $1.4 billion to settle charges of biased and misleading research. And after years of campaigning for such reforms, The Motley Fool looks upon this as a landmark day -- especially since the settlement includes reforms that will help curb future abuses.

The largest fine -- $400 million -- was levied against Citigroup(NYSE: C), and the rest will pay between $80 million and $200 million. The dozen firms involved include Credit Suisse First Boston(NYSE: CSR), Salomon Smith Barney(NYSE: SSB), Bear Stearns(NYSE: BSC), Deutsche Bank(NYSE: DB), Goldman Sachs(NYSE: GS), J.P. Morgan Chase(NYSE: JPM), Lehman Brothers(NYSE: LEH), Morgan Stanley(NYSE: MWD), and UBS Warburg(NYSE: UBS). Merrill Lynch(NYSE: MER) has already settled.

More important than the fines, however, is the fact the companies are agreeing to sweeping changes in the way they do business. No longer will stock analysts' pay be tied to the amount of investment-banking business they generate. No longer will the firms be able to "spin" IPO shares to executives in exchange for future business. Each of these companies will also be required to contract with no less than three independent research firms that will provide research to the brokerage firm's customers.

"This agreement will permanently change the way Wall Street operates," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who teamed with the SEC and other agencies to enact the settlement. "Our objective throughout the investigation and negotiations has been to protect the small investor and restore integrity to the marketplace. We are confident that the rules embodied in this agreement will do so."

The agreement doesn't include criminal punishment for individuals involved, but that could come later. Some of the fine money will go toward "investor restitution."

We know today's settlement doesn't scrub Wall Street clean of conflicts of interest and other abuses. We'll still have to keep our Eyes on the Wise. However, this is a huge win for individual investors, and perhaps a precursor of better things to come.