Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has been associated with poor prognosis, due to its strong invasive ability and resistance to chemotherapy. Thus, there is an urgent requirement to identify effective biomarkers for the early diagnosis and prognostic evaluation of HNSCC. COP9 signalosome (COPS) regulates numerous cancer-associated biological processes in various malignancies. The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between COPS and HNSCC. The mRNA expression profiles of COPS in HNSCC were analyzed using UALCAN, Oncomine and UCSC Xena databases. The association between overall survival time in patients with HNSCC and the COPS genes was investigated using the Kaplan-Meier plotter database. The CERES score was obtained and evaluated to determine the importance of the COPS genes for survival of the HNSCC cell lines. Functional analysis for Gene Ontology and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) was performed using The Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery and GSEA software, respectively. After knocking down COPS5 and COPS6, cell Counting Kit-8 and wound healing assays were used to detect cell growth and migration of the CAL27 and SCC25 cell lines, respectively. Among the 10 COPS genes examined, most COPS subunits were upregulated in HNSCC samples compared with that in normal tissues, except for COPS9. Increased mRNA expression level of COPS5, COPS6, COPS7B, COPS8 and COPS9 was associated with TNM stage in patients with HNSCC. High mRNA expression level of COPS2, COPS5, COPS6, COPS7A, COPS7B, COPS8 and COPS9 had prognostic significance of patients with HNSCC. Knockdown of COPS5 and COPS6 inhibited cell growth and migration of the CAL27 and SCC25 cell lines. The results from the present study suggested that COPS subunits could be potential biomarkers in patients with HNSCC. COPS5 and COPS6 were important for cell survival and migration of the HNSCC cells.